Protection for call centre workers

After a year of negotiations, the national collective agreement for the telecommunications sector in Italy has been signed. The agreement will give more than 160,000 workers an average annual wage increase of €135 and a one-off payment of €400. The deal also contains measures designed to safeguard the jobs of call centre workers and regulate the behaviour of contractors. Negotiations have taken place against a background of two national strikes and a national protest march.

Agreement signed

On 1 February 2013, the national collective agreement (in Italian, 3.66Mb PDF) for employees working in telecommunications enterprises was renewed. It was signed for the employers by the Italian Employers Association of Telecommunication Operators, ASSOTELECOMUNICAZIONI – ASSTEL, and for the employees by the Communication Workers’ Union (SLC CGIL), the Information, Entertainment and Telecommunications Workers’ Union (FISTel CISL), and the Italian Communication Workers’ Union (UILCOM-UIL).

Valid from 1 January 2012 to 31 December 2014, it gives160,000 workers in call centres and the telecommunications sector an average annual pay rise of €135, to be paid in four installments in April and October of 2013 and 2014. A one-off payment of €400 covers the year-long negotiation period that followed the expiry of the previous agreement. The last time such long negotiations took place was in 2000.

This agreement was concluded against a background of two national strikes and a national protest march, and a number of locally organised protests.

Long negotiations

The length of negotiations was caused principally by the unions’ desire to prevent companies establishing call centres on the basis of cost alone. They wanted quality to be taken into account, and sought guarantees of better working conditions in call centres.

The new agreement stipulates that companies operating in the sector must only contract out call centre activities to enterprises that are financially solid and have an ample and varied client portfolio. It also stipulates that contractors should abide by the telecommunications collective agreement or a contract that gives similar conditions and guarantees.

Unions also wanted guarantees to minimise job losses when call centres’ contracts with clients change or end. They asked that contractors should be obliged to consult trade unions to discuss alternatives to redundancy.

A new norm regulates supplementary work for part-time contracts. Employees will be able to add to the minimum working hours established for part-time workers by working additional hours, thus guaranteeing better pay.

It was also agreed that in periods when work levels drop, businesses will be able to ask staff to stop working for the number of hours they have accumulated in ‘time banks’. This type of stoppage can be no more than 30% of the total permitted reduction in annual working time, now capped at a maximum of 72 hours per year.

This now limits how much holiday an employer can force an employee to take in slack periods. As result, the new agreement means that when and how holiday is taken is no longer decided exclusively by the enterprise.

Union reactions

In a joint statement, the National Secretaries of the trade unions involved expressed their satisfaction with the result. They said it increased workers’ rights, makes outsourcing less convenient, and combats the reduction of salaries due to forms of unregulated competition.

For the employers, Asstel said the result of the negotiations with the sectoral trade unions was particularly positive, considering it to be:

…the usual excellent balance between the productivity needs of an enterprise and the rights of its workers, which has always characterised national collective agreements in the telecommunications sector.

Commentary

There are two important aspects of this renewed national collective agreement.

The first is the excellent collaboration that has characterised the relationship between the three big trade unions involved in the negotiations. This was despite a difficult climate which included two national strikes, a national protest march and numerous other forms of protest at local level.

The second is the new agreement’s protection for people in call centres, a group of employees who often work in difficult conditions and earn low salaries. In fact, the focus of negotiations was to stop companies selecting call centres on the basis of cost alone (which was a common practice in Italian call centres), a factor that inevitably has negative consequences for the rights and salaries of workers.

Vilma Rinolfi, Cesos

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