New agreement in the wood and furniture sector

A new collective agreement for Italy’s wood and furniture sector was signed in September 2013 after several months of difficult negotiations. It covers 370,000 workers and is valid until 2016. The sector’s unions and the employers’ organisation Federlegno have agreed an average annual increase of €115 and established new rules for flexible working hours, employment contracts, apprenticeships, corporate social responsibility and the protection of workers’ dignity.

Background

The output of the wood and furniture sector, together with the fashion and the food sectors, accounts for 6% of Italy’s manufacturing industry production. Despite its significance to the economy, however, there is currently a serious crisis in the industry and around 10,000 enterprises have closed with the loss of 52,000 jobs.

Negotiations for the renewal of the sector’s national collective agreement, which expired last March, were long and difficult and there were frequent interruptions, including a full-day national strike. The new agreement, which was finally signed in September 2013 by unions and Federlegno-Arredo, the employers’ organisation for the sector, is valid until 2016 and covers approximately 370,000 workers and 70,000 enterprises. The agreement includes an average annual pay increase of €115 and has new provisions for flexible working hours and the protection of workers’ dignity.

Working hours and contracts

On average, the sector has a 40-hour working week. The new agreement makes it possible to organise these working hours differently so that enterprises can respond to variations in production. They will be able to use the new provisions for flexible working hours to ask employees to work up to a maximum of 48 hours per week, balanced with lighter working weeks of not less than 32 hours. A 10% bonus for every hour over the 43rd hour worked in one week is stipulated in the agreement.

The agreement caps the number of workers who can be hired on a fixed-term or temporary supply contract. Such workers must make up no more than 25% of the total number of workers who have open-ended contracts. This percentage can, however, be increased through company-level agreements between Unitary Workplace Union Structures or, if that is not possible, with the territorial trade union organisations.

Apprenticeships and corporate social responsibility

Improvements have been suggested in the law regarding the obligation of enterprises to hire apprentices (young people aged between 17 or 18 and 29).

The collective agreement makes it obligatory for enterprises in the sector to give permanent jobs to at least 50% of their apprentices if the company already has more than 10 employees, and 30% for smaller companies.

Contributions towards the supplementary social security to be paid by enterprises will increase, rising progressively while the agreement is in force from the current 1.3% to 1.8% as of 1st January 2016. A national supplementary health fund, Altea, will be set up for the sector by its social partners. The cost for each worker to participate in this fund will be €10 which will be paid entirely by the company they work for.

A protocol in the agreement deals with the concept of corporate social responsibility, defined by the signatories as having an added value for enterprises and for their relationships with workers, clients, suppliers, the territory in which they operate and institutions. The signatories have also agreed a charter of key values for the sector that include complying with the law, good fiscal practice, fair competition and a rejection of corruption and money laundering, health and safety in the workplace, the preservation of workers’ health, protection of the environment, moral integrity and transparency.

The collective agreement specifically states that respect for every aspect of workers’ dignity must be guaranteed in the workplace, including gender discrimination issues, and any form of inappropriate behaviour must be stopped. A joint committee will be asked to draw up a code of conduct to regulate the protection of workers’ dignity.

Social partners’ reactions

Despite the difficult negotiations, the employers’ association Federlegno-Arredo believes that the agreement is good for the sector’s businesses, particularly the provisions that make flexible working possible.

The sectoral federations of the major trade union federations – the General Confederation of Italian Labour (Cgil), the Italian Confederation of Workers’ Unions (Cisl) and the Union of Italian Workers (Uil) – are also pleased with the agreement, particularly the provisions that guarantee protection of workers’ dignity and the drawing up of a code of conduct. They have said they are also satisfied with provisions that will prevent the overuse of fixed-term and temporary supply contracts by setting specific limits on them.

Sofia Sanz, Cesos

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