Intersectoral agreement on representation and representativeness

After years of division and infighting among union confederations in Italy, a new agreement has been reached. On 31 May 2013, the president of the employers’ organisation Confindustria and the leaders of the three major trade union confederations, Cgil, Cisl and Uil, signed a protocol on representation and representativeness for national industry-wide agreements. The deal includes rules for the measurement of representativeness and the effectiveness of sectoral deals.


There have been deep divisions between Italy’s three main trade union confederations over the past decade. Since the early 2000s, united union action has been jeopardised by differences of opinion and actual splits between the General Confederation of Italian Workers (Cgil), the Italian Confederation of Workers’ Unions (Cisl) and the Union of Italian Workers (Uil). There have been significant disputes over the signing of important agreements both at national and sectoral levels.

So-called ‘separate’ agreements have been typically signed by Cisl and Uil or their respective sectoral federations, with the opposition of Cgil or its industry affiliates. Divisions have been particularly prominent in the metalworking sector. They started as early as 2001, with the renewal of the economic part of the industry-wide agreement (IT0107193F). Later there were splits over the agreement renewals in 2003 and 2009 (IT0305204F, IT0911029I). Harmony was temporarily restored with the unitary renewals on the economic terms of the 2006 agreement (IT0602301F) and the 2008 agreement (IT0802039I).

Differences emerged within Fiat with the signing of the Pomigliano agreement of June 2009 which dealt with the restructuring of the car manufacturer’s plant there, which Cgil opposed. During negotiations, the Fiat Group devised a new strategy which saw it create a new company for each plant. This meant it could come to single company-level agreements at each plant. Fiat negotiated the deals outside the representation domain of employer organisation Confindustria and the multi-employer, industry-wide metalworking agreement (IT1102019I, IT1111029I).

Leaders at metalworking union Fiom-Cgil also failed to sign the latest sectoral agreement at Fiat which was reached on 5 December 2012.

There have been divisions in tripartite negotiations. Cgil refused to sign the major Pact for Italy agreement of July 2002 (IT0207104F). It also refused to sign the intersectoral agreements on the experimental reform of the collective bargaining structure of 22 January 2009 (IT0902059I) and on productivity of 21 November 2012.

This situation led to disputes and uncertainty over the effectiveness of the ‘separate’ agreements. In the metalworking sector in particular, Fiom-Cgil campaigned against the 2003 deal and tried to conclude company-level ‘pre-agreements’ (IT0312102N, IT0310205F). More recently, Fiom-Cgil legally challenged ‘separate’ agreements by starting lawsuits against the enforceability of the single-level Fiat Group agreement (IT1102019I) and the latest metalworking agreement.

Issue of representativeness discussed

The absence of any specific legislative or contractual rules led to uncertainty about the effectiveness of collective agreements. The issue of representativeness became important, along with commitments to define new regulations. These were central to the 2009 collective bargaining reform agreement (IT0902059I) and the recent intersectoral deal on productivity.

The new collective bargaining rules and the deal on productivity were weakened by the fact that they were included in ‘separate’ agreements. The new regulations needed to be shared among all the parties, including Cgil, to make them effective.

Confindustria had already signed a first intersectoral agreement on representativeness and the effectiveness of second-level company collective agreements on 28 June 2011 (IT1108029I) with all the major trade union confederations. Now a new agreement has been signed which both implements and complements that deal, with special reference to industry-wide agreements.

Representativeness in industry-wide agreements

On 31 May 2013, after four hours of talks, a protocol was signed on the application of the 28 June 2011 agreement on representation and representativeness for national industry-wide agreements. The deal was reached between Giorgio Squinzi, President of Confindustria, and the Secretaries-General of Cgil (Susanna Camusso), Cisl (Raffaele Bonanni) and Uil (Luigi Angeletti).

The deal includes important details for the measurement of representativeness and confirms the preference for a unitary union workplace structure (RSU) over a plant-level union structure (RSA). It also includes details on the presentation of a joint and unitary platform of demands by all signatory trade unions.

What the protocol stipulates

The new protocol says that, in accordance with the 28 June 2011 agreement, representativeness shall be assessed by joint reference to the share of each trade union in total membership and to the number of votes received in the elections of an RSU by each trade union, as a proportion of all votes cast.

It says the number of members for each trade union will be certified by the National Social Security Institute (INPS), following specific agreement with the signatories. For each bargaining unit corresponding to individual industry-wide agreements within Confindustria’s representation system, INPS will collect data on the number of check-offs in favour of the trade unions affiliated to Cgil, Cisl and Uil respectively. It will then transfer the information to the Council of Economy and Labour (CNEL).

For RSU elections, only the votes cast for the signatory trade union confederations will be taken into account. Data on the results of the RSU elections will be collected by special provincial guarantee committees and transferred to CNEL.

CNEL will elaborate the data received on check-offs and the RSU elections for each bargaining unit and trade union organisation. From these it will determine the representativeness of each individual organisation affiliated to the trade union confederations.

Organisations with a representativeness of at least 5%, being the simple average between the percentage of total membership and of total votes cast in RSU elections, will be admitted to the bargaining table for the corresponding industry-wide agreement. The two indicators will be weighted equally, each providing the basis of 50% of the final representativeness.

As for the effectiveness of sectoral agreements, the protocol establishes that the deals signed by trade union organisations with representativeness of at least 50% plus one are binding for all the signatory parties and will be applied to all workers. The agreements will be fully effective after they have been approved by a simple majority in a worker consultation. The specific rules of such consultations will be defined in each industry-wide agreement.

The protocol states that trade union confederations and their affiliates will ‘commit themselves to grant full implementation of these agreements and not to start disputes on their application’.

Trade union representation structures

The protocol also makes the following stipulations.

  • For workplaces where an RSU is not established, only membership data will be used to define representativeness.
  • According to the principle introduced by the interconfederal agreement on RSUs of 20 December 1993, if an organisation affiliated with the signatories of the protocol participates in the RSU elections it waives the right to establish an RSA. Any organisations joining the agreement accept this provision.
  • The signatories and any other organisations joining the agreement agree not to establish RSAs in any workplace where an RSU is present.
  • Where RSAs are present, the establishment of the RSU must be jointly agreed by all the signatories to the protocol.
  • The RSUs are elected by proportional vote.

Platform of demands

The protocol states that the signatory trade union confederations, with no prejudice to the autonomy of each organisation, will favour the presentation of a joint platform of demands for all sectoral agreements. The employers, if no joint platform is presented, will support the start of negotiations on the platform backed by trade unions with representativeness of at least 50% plus one in the relevant bargaining unit.

The social partners’ views

The signatories have presented the agreement as an historic step towards overcoming divisions between the confederations and ‘separate’ agreements. Cgil has described the deal as ‘an important turning point in the regulation of the relationship between the parties’.

Raffaele Bonanni, Cisl’s Secretary-General, expressed his satisfaction with ‘a very important agreement for industrial relations which will change the world of work’. He added that he believed ‘industrial relations will have a very strong effectiveness and influence on economic facts’.

Giorgio Squinzi, President of Confindustria, described the protocol as ‘an historical agreement’ which defined the rules of representation and ‘makes collective accords fully effective’. Squinzi said: a difficult moment, this deal is a tangible sign of the cohesion among the parties to solve the problem of economic growth, which is an absolute imperative, since only growth can produce new employment.

Italy’s President, Giorgio Napolitano, described the conclusion of the agreement on representation as:

...a prominent event for the country, not only for the signatories. It is an important and encouraging sign of a constructive willingness and social cohesion, and both are decisive elements to overcoming the difficulty and challenges that Italy is currently facing.

He also expressed his wish that ‘the spirit and content of the deal may find the broadest support among all employers and trade unions’.

The Italian Prime Minister, Enrico Letta, said the agreement was ‘good news’, and added that it was time to ‘unite and to avoid divisions in order to be able to fight unemployment’.


The agreement on representation and representativeness is an important step towards regulating representation and collective bargaining in Italy. It extends the system introduced by legislation in the public sector in the late 1990s (IT9709311F). Together with the rules on second-level agreements included in the 28 June 2011 deal (IT1108029I), the 31 May 2013 protocol defines a comprehensive framework to avoid divisions and promote unitary action by the main trade union confederations.

Of course, this protocol will not automatically overcome the differences of opinion between union confederations or lead to shared positions on all issues. It will, however, bring clarity to negotiations. It will mean clear rules about the signing of agreements and their effectiveness. It will bring a strong commitment by the parties to accept the full legitimacy of the signatories and the implementation of the deals, when the representativeness requirements (50% plus one) are met. If implementation follows smoothly, industrial relations will certainly benefit from the introduction of this regulation.

For the time being, the new rules only apply to Confindustria’s system of representation and to the signatory trade union confederations. But, as envisaged by Confindustria’s president, the agreement may inspire other employer associations and trade unions. If the consensus broadens, the institutionalisation of the Italian industrial relations system may enter a new phase, with significant advances in the clarification of rules and the effectiveness of agreements.

Roberto Pedersini, Università degli Studi di Milano

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