Unions strike against national stability law

After the Italian government presented its budget programme for 2014–16 on 18 October, the three main union confederations reacted by calling a four-hour strike by members in all sectors at local level by mid-November. They claim that it has not been negotiated with the social partners, and that it does not provide any solutions to Italy’s serious economic problems and will lead to continued recession. Unions are calling for measures to improve productivity and boost employment.

The stability law budget

On 18 October, the Italian government presented the ‘stability law’ for 2014 which sets out the budget programme for the years 2014 to 2016, in compliance with the requirements of the Stability and Growth Pact. The stability law establishes the following measures:

  • labour cost cuts for companies that hire workers with permanent contracts (of about €1.2 billion);
  • a reform of taxes for local services and the introduction of a new levy;
  • resources for transportation, infrastructure and local administration in the regions, provinces and municipalities.
  • stability law allocates €600 billion to the Wages Guarantee Fund in 2014 – which supports workers laid off or on reduced hours while a company is restructuring or in financial difficulties. It also sets aside €162 billion for 6,000 workers, known as the esodati, who left the labour market after the age of 50 by taking voluntary redundancy, by taking early retirement, or by taking a mobility allowance until they reached retirement age and could claim a pension, and now risk neither job nor pension as a consequence of the Monti pensions reform (IT1304039Q).
  • law also includes a chapter on the rationalisation of expenses for public administration, public employment and workers’ pensions.

The unions’ reaction

The three main union confederations, the General Confederation of Italian Labour (Cgil), the Italian Confederation of Workers’ Unions (Cisl) and the Union of Italian Workers (Uil), have expressed disappointment at the announced budget measures and have called a strike. According to the unions, the 2014 stability law is still far from the political economy shift that the country needs to exit the recession and start growing with the help of lower taxes and more investment in jobs, innovation and social policies. They ask that the government finds more resources for the Wages Guarantee Fund and for the ‘esodati’.

They demand lower taxes for both active and retired workers and for companies that create good jobs. To this end, the law should raise fiscal deductions for workers, which would increase equity and consumers’ purchasing power, thereby boosting demand. It should also cut taxes on productivity bonuses, and this should be extended to public sector workers. The law should also make the new estate tax more equitable and repeal recent reductions in tax breaks. Another priority is to fight tax evasion by defining it as a crime and reviewing the penalties that are currently in place against it.

The second priority, according to the union federations, is to reform and review the Italian pension system which they consider unfair and rigid, and protect Italian workers from cuts in their pension payments.

Public services and spending

The unions express concern about the efficiency of the public sector and of public spending. To defend and upgrade public services, they want clear employment prospects for workers employed in the public sector on precarious contracts; their professional abilities should be acknowledged and given more recognition.

The importance of promoting decentralised bargaining is stressed by the unions, currently under quite strict constraints as a result of centralised budgetary controls following the so-called Brunetta reform (IT0807039I).

The unions criticise the severe budget cuts that have affected the public sector in recent years, and have been reinforced by the 2014 stability law. At the same time, they urge the cutting of non-productive public expenses and political costs, the enhancement of the efficiency of public organisations and governance levels, and the tackling of corruption.

Finally, the unions focus on revenues. More money for government would flow, they suggest, from reducing the number of public agencies and governing bodies and their officers, from improved efficiency of local public services through economy of scale and the use of business management models. Funds recovered by fighting tax evasion and tax avoidance could directly compensate lower workers’ taxes.

According to the unions, all these measures would help boost internal demand in the economy, which they believe is a fundamental condition for the development of a productive system and job creation.

Strike action

On 21 October Cgil, Cisl and Uil called a four-hour strike in support of their demands, to be held by members in all sectors at local level by mid-November. In certain areas, the strike was for longer than four hours. According to Susanna Camusso, Secretary General of Cgil, the stability law has to be modified to include adequate resources for the Wages Guarantee Fund, for the ‘esodati’ and to reduce the tax burden on active and retired workers.

Raffaele Bonanni, Secretary General of Cisl, in an address to the Minister of Employment, Enrico Giovannini, said that the unions were demanding, in the stability law, clear responses to the issues of the ‘esodati’ and of the Wages Guarantee Fund.

Luigi Angeletti, Secretary General of Uil, declared that the goal is ‘to stage strikes and demonstrations at local level to influence the debate in parliament’.

Lisa Rustico, Università degli Studi di Milano

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