Telework in Italy

The signing of a national interconfederal agreement transposing the European framework agreement on telework, concluded by the European social partners in 2002, sets out the general points of reference for telework regulation in Italy. Although data is lacking on the prevalence of telework, some findings reveal that telework is more prevalent in certain sectors and in large companies in Italy. This article looks at the extent of telework and explores the progress in implementing the EU framework agreement.

Definition

Article 2 of the 2002 European framework agreement on telework (107Kb PDF) defines telework as follows:

Telework is a form of organising and/or performing work, using information technology, in the context of an employment contract/ relationship, where work, which could also be performed at the employer’s premises, is carried out away from those premises on a regular basis.

In June 2004, 21 associations representing the employers and the main Italian trade union confederations signed a national interconfederal agreement (in Italian, 87.3Kb PDF), which transposed the 2002 EU framework agreement on telework in its entirety into national legislation (EU0207204F, IT0407205F). The trade unions involved included the General Confederation of Italian Labour (Confederazione Generale Italiana del Lavoro, Cgil), the Italian Confederation of Workers’ Trade Unions (Confederazione Italiana Sindacati Lavoratori, Cisl) and the Union of Italian Workers (Unione Italiana del Lavoro, Uil). As a result, the definition of telework used in the text of the interconfederal agreement is identical to that cited in the European framework agreement. Moreover, the interconfederal agreement defines the general frame of reference for the regulation of telework, leaving ample space for collective – both at national and decentralised level – and individual bargaining, although the latter must respect the minimum standards of protection established by the agreement.

Telework in private sector

In the private sector, a number of national-level collective agreements regulated telework before the transposition of the European framework agreement, while other renewals of collective agreements have made direct reference to the national interconfederal agreement. Examples of this practice include the national-level agreements for commerce workers (IT0407108F), workers in the textiles, clothing and fashion sector (IT0405102N), employees of professionals (IT0605029I), employees of private medical structures, telecommunications workers (IT0512305F), local public transport workers (IT0412101N) and workers in the air transport sector. Most of the national sectoral agreements highlighted the voluntary character of telework, its ‘reversibility’ – which means that the decision to move to telework is reversible by individual and/or collective agreement – and the guarantee that teleworkers enjoy the same rights as those established by the law and collective agreements for a ‘comparable’ worker operating from the employer’s premises. A substantial proportion of the national sectoral agreements defined a general frame of reference for the regulation of telework, leaving the definition of specific rules to the collective company-level bargaining or individual bargaining.

Telework in public sector

In the public sector, telework was initially introduced by Law No. 191/1998 (in Italian), which was implemented by the regulations on telework in the public administration, published in the Official Gazette on 25 March 1999 (DPR 70/1999 (in Italian)). The law regulates, at a general level, aspects such as pay, teleworkers’ rights and working conditions. On the basis of the statutory guidelines, telework has also become a matter of collective bargaining. In this regard, in 2000, the Agency for the Representation of Public Administrations in Collective Bargaining (Agenzia per la rappresentanza negoziale delle pubbliche amministrazioni, Aran), along with Cgil, Cisl, Uil and a number of independent trade unions signed a framework agreement which regulated telework in the public sector (IT9908344F), following which telework was included in various branch agreements. The aim to spread telework practices in the public sector was confirmed in the recent agreement on the reorganisation of public administration, reached at the end of January 2007 by the Italian government and the main trade union confederations (IT0702039I). The agreement provides for several measures to modernise the Italian public sector and improve its performance. In particular, the agreement envisages the introduction of technological and organisational innovations and new investments in order to increase the number of teleworkers in Italy’s public administration.

Prevalence of telework

In Italy, no national-level data exists which provides a breakdown of the total number of teleworkers in the private sector; moreover, no surveys have been carried out distinguishing, again at national level and in the private sector, teleworkers according to occupation and skill levels. The only available data on telework concerns the annual survey on the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) in companies with more than 10 employees, carried out by the National Institute of Statistics (Istituto nazionale di statistica, Istat). In this case, teleworking refers to employees who spend some time – for example, half a day or more working days each week – outside the main office, working at external offices or at home and using a computer and related equipment which links the teleworker to the employer’s main office.

Sectoral breakdown

The survey showed that, in 2006, the spread of telework was higher in the following sectors: post and telecommunications (24.63% of all companies in the sector developed one or more forms of telework), chemicals (14.39% of all chemical companies used some form of telework), as well as wholesale and retail trade (8.39% of all companies implemented one or more telework practices).

Telework by company size and region

In terms of establishment size, telework practices were more widespread in large companies: in 2006, 31.18% of companies with 250 or more employees developed one or more forms of telework, while only 2.9% of enterprises with 10–49 employees applied telework practices. This trend is confirmed in all of the sectors mentioned. With regard to geographical position, in 2006, companies practising telework were more concentrated in the northwest (5.43% of all companies) and northeast (4.38% of all companies) of Italy; only 2.27% of firms located in the south of Italy applied telework practices.

Characteristics of teleworkers

The aforementioned annual survey does not provide any information on the characteristics of teleworkers (such as gender, age group, or skill levels and qualifications), or on the form of regulation used to introduce telework practices (such as collective agreement at company level or individual bargaining).

Information on the characteristics of the workers involved in telework derives essentially from the few case studies and descriptions that exist of good practices on telework, generally implemented at company level. The topic has often been addressed within analyses of broader issues, such as work–life balance measures introduced by individual companies.

Telework in public and private sectors

In general, the partial studies conducted in recent years have shown that telework is used to a lesser extent than other forms of flexible employment. This is probably due to problems associated with the management and organisation of telework, as well as to its set-up costs.

In the public sector, the situation is quite different. Calculations by the State General Accounting Department of the Minister of Economy and Finance (Ragioneria generale dello Stato) showed that, in 2005, the number of teleworkers rose to 470 individuals – the equivalent of 0.1% of all employees in the sector. Of the 470 teleworkers employed in public administration, 314 were women and the majority – 365 workers – worked for local authorities.

In the private sector, some cases exist where pilot projects on telework have been developed after 2004. For instance, in October 2007, the Poste Italiane group and the three confederal postal workers’ and autonomous trade unions – the General Communication Workers’ Union (Unione Generale del Lavoro Comunicazioni, Ugl Comunicazioni), the Autonomous Federation of Italian Postal Workers (Federazione Autonoma Italiana Lavoratori Postelegrafonici, Failp-Cisal) and the Autonomous Union of Italian Postal Workers – General Confederation of Autonomous Workers’ Trade Unions (Sindicato Autonomo Italiano Lavaratori Poste – Confederazione Generale dei Sindacati Autonomi dei Lavoratori, Sailp-Confsal) – reached an agreement on the use of telework in Poste Italiane’s call centre activities. The agreement envisages that the use of telework in the call centres will last six months – from February 2008 to July 2008– with the aim of subsequently spreading telework practices to other areas of the group’s work. Moreover, the agreement stipulates that the telework arrangement had to be voluntary.

In 2007, the Chamber of Commerce of Venice (Camera di commercio, industria, artigianato e agricoltura Venezia) developed a pilot project on telework, which became one of the bigger projects on telework realised in a European private organisation. The project involved 44 workers and is part of the company’s policy to encourage a balance between work and family responsibilities. It is linked with the PONTI project on ‘Equal opportunities in territories and companies’ and is also part of the EU EQUAL initiative.

In many cases, however, telework has been introduced in companies through individual agreements, mainly concerning workers with medium to high skill levels.

Regulatory framework

In the private sector, telework is not regulated by specific legislation. As mentioned above, the general regulatory framework is the one established by the national interconfederal agreement signed in 2004 by 21 employer organisations and the three main trade union confederations.

In the public sector, in contrast, telework is regulated by Law 191/1998. These legal provisions were transposed by the 2000 framework agreement signed by Aran, the trade union confederations and a number of autonomous trade unions.

Employment and working conditions

In the private sector, the working conditions, safety, privacy, training and collective rights of teleworkers are regulated by the national interconfederal agreement of 2004. In particular, the agreement provides for the voluntary and reversible nature of telework and guarantees the same collective rights for teleworkers with regard to training and career development as those received by their colleagues working on the employer’s premises.

In the public sector, the framework agreement reached in 2000 regulates several aspects of telework, such as working conditions, health and safety, workers’ rights and opportunities.

Views of social partners and government

According to Italy’s largest employer organisation, the General Confederation of Italian Industry (Confederazione Generale dell’Industria Italiana, Confindustria), the main difficulties that Italian companies encounter in the use of telework are the costs related to the initial set-up and management of telework. According to representatives of the trade union confederations, one of the main obstacles against telework development are labour costs, in the sense that telework is not a vehicle to save on labour costs. The most urgent matter for companies at present seems to be the quest for finding cheaper forms of labour and improving labour productivity.

Diego Coletto, Fondazione Regionale Pietro Seveso

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