Trade unions split over metalworking sector agreement

In October 2009, a draft agreement was signed on renewing the national collective agreement for the metalworking sector. However, the most representative trade union did not sign the accord, which covers 1.6 million workers and was reached on the basis of the new bargaining rules established by the social partner agreement of April 2009. The settlement provides for a monthly pay increase of €110 and has innovative elements regarding contractual welfare.

The draft agreement on renewing the industry-wide agreement for the metalworking sector, signed on 15 October 2009, marks an important development in Italian industrial relations. The settlement covers around 1.6 million workers and has traditionally represented the most important private sector collective agreement in Italy. It is often used as a model for agreement renewals in other sectors.

The accord was signed by the sectoral employer organisation, the Italian Federation of Metalworking Industries (Federazione Sindacale dell’Industria Metalmeccanica Italiana, Federmeccanica), and by the following two trade unions:

  • the Italian Metalworkers’ Federation (Federazione Italiana Metalmeccanici, Fim), affiliated to the Italian Confederation of Workers’ Trade Unions (Confederazione Italiana Sindacati Lavoratori, Cisl);
  • the Italian Metalworkers Union (Unione Italiana Lavoratori Metalmeccanici, Uilm), affiliated to the Union of Italian Workers (Unione Italiana del Lavoro, Uil).

Trade union divisions despite calmer industrial relations climate

The negotiations on reaching an agreement have two notable aspects.

Firstly, after the resumption of trade union unity for the previous renewal of the sectoral agreement in January 2008 (IT0704019I, IT0802039I), a separate accord has once again been signed. More specifically, the latest agreement was not signed by the most representative trade union in the metalworking sector, the Federation of White-collar and Blue-collar Metalworkers (Federazione Impiegati Operai Metallurgici, Fiom), affiliated to the General Confederation of Italian Workers (Confederazione Generale Italiana del Lavoro, Cgil). Cgil mainly refused to sign the new sectoral agreement because it is based on the rules established by the April 2009 accord between the Confederation of Italian Industry (Confederazione Generale dell’Industria Italiana, Confindustria), Cisl and Uil on reform of the industrial relations system; Cgil did not sign that agreement (IT0902059I).

Nevertheless, in other industries – for example, food (IT0910029I) and telecommunications (IT0911019I) – although negotiations had been difficult, agreements based on the new rules were signed by all three trade union confederations.

The second point of interest is that, for the first time, the renewal settlement has been reached two and a half months in advance of the agreement’s expiry and in an industrial relations climate marked by much less conflict than in the past. Fiom-Cgil’s refusal to sign will certainly have significant consequences from this perspective. Indeed, two national strikes were held in the month following signature of the agreement.

Content of agreement

The main parts of the accord, which will be valid from January 2010 to December 2012 both for its economic and legal parts, are the following:

  • an average increase in wage-tariff minima or minimum wages of €110 paid in the following instalments: €28 from January 2010, €40 from January 2011 and €42 from January 2012;
  • an increase of €195 a year, starting from January 2011, in the so-called ‘equalising element’ (elemento perequativo). This increment concerns only the employees of enterprises without company-level collective bargaining and with only pay levels stipulated by the nationwide sectoral agreement;
  • the creation of a bipartite committee with the responsibility of defining:
    • non-binding guidelines to foster the spread of company-level bargaining on economic matters in smaller enterprises
    • regulations supplementing those on second-level bargaining already established by the nationwide agreement and which implement the provisions of the national multi-industry agreement signed in April 2009, such as the definition of performance-related bonuses and the timing, procedures and topics of company-level bargaining;
  • the creation of an income support fund for workers whose incomes are reduced for prolonged periods and in specific cases. Workers will be able to enrol in the fund on a voluntary basis. Employers will contribute €2 a month per worker and workers will contribute €1 a month;
  • a 0.2% increase from January 2012 in employer contributions to the Comet Fund (Fondo Cometa), which is the supplementary pension scheme for the metalworking sector. A further 0.2% increase in employer contributions will apply from January 2013. Subscribing workers will make a contribution at least equal to that of the employer;
  • the possibility for the unitary workplace union structure (Rappresentanze Sindacali Unitarie, RSU) of companies with more than 300 employees to appoint a training delegate as the company’s specialist reference person on the subject;
  • the creation of a National Bilateral Observatory for the sector, responsible for research and analysis on specific topics, as well as the publication of an annual report. In addition, this observatory will promote and manage training schemes and relations with the Continuing vocational training fund for workers in industrial enterprises linked to Confindustria (Fondo per la formazione continua delle imprese associate a Confindustria, Fondimpresa) (IT0202103F).

Reactions of social partners

For the President of Federmeccanica, Pierluigi Ceccardi, ‘the agreement is excellent and shows responsibility towards the country and workers’. The Vice-president of Confindustria, Alberto Bomabassei, emphasised that the introduction of the income support fund ‘is a first, concrete signal for the development of a network of contractual welfare’.

On the trade union side, the General Secretary of Cisl, Raffaele Bonanni, described the agreement as ‘marking a turning point in trade union relations and strengthening the participative and bilateral system’.

As noted, however, Fiom-Cgil – the most representative trade union in the metalworking sector – did not sign the agreement and presented its own bargaining platform. According to Cgil, the new accord breached the 1993 tripartite agreement (IT9709212F), which is still in force. Fiom has already organised two national strikes and has called for a referendum among workers on approval of the new agreement. The General Secretary of Cgil, Guglielmo Epifani, declared that if ‘the intention is indeed to be fully responsible, the only option is to have the metalworkers express themselves democratically with their votes and to restore a correct relationship between democracy and bargaining’.

Edoardo Della Torre, University of Milan

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