Mixed reaction to changes in health and safety code of workers

Decree No. 106 of 3 August 2009 integrates and modifies Decree No. 81/2008, known as the Code for the Health and Safety of Workers (Consolidated Act on health and safety at the workplace). Trade unions have expressed conflicting opinions on the amendments. However, employers have welcomed the latest decree, with the General Confederation of Italian Industry – which had previously opposed Decree 81/08 – viewing the modifications favourably.

On 20 August 2009, Decree No. 106, published in the Official Gazette (Gazzetta Ufficiale) on 3 August 2009, came into force. It modifies and integrates Decree No. 81 of 2008, which was known as the Code for the Health and Safety of Workers (Consolidated Act on health and safety at the workplace) (IT0804039I).

According to the Minister of Labour, Health and Social Policy, Maurizio Sacconi, the new decree, which comprises 149 articles, should signal a different approach to the issue of health and safety, focusing more on preventive measures than on sanctions.

Principal modifications of decree

The new decree makes changes in the areas outlined below.

  • In order to facilitate the regularisation of enterprises, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), the new decree simplifies certain formal aspects of matters concerning health and safety.
  • The decree guarantees better coordination at territorial level between the supervising functionaries of the local health units and the labour inspectors.
  • Regarding the field of application, the new health and safety norms will include volunteers of the Red Cross, the armed forces and the police, the fire brigade and volunteers of the Department of Civil Protection (Dipartimento della Protezione Civile), as well as people working in social cooperatives.
  • The decree introduces a ‘points licence’ to determine high risk sectors of economic activity. The licence will certify the technical professional validity of companies or autonomous workers according to established criteria such as training and the fact of never having been fined. This system will first come into effect in the construction sector.
  • In the construction sector, furthermore, the planning and delivery of training will now take place on the premises of the bipartite bodies, the enterprises or the Construction Workers’ Welfare Fund (Cassa Edile). Cassa Edile is an independent body founded in every province of Italy, according to the rules of the national collective agreement.
  • The decree enables the joint bodies – on condition that they have the necessary structures and specific competences – to verify the adoption and setting up of company organisational models connected with accident prevention. The joint bodies will also be able to award a certificate, which the supervisory entities will take into account when planning their activities. The adoption of these organisational models in SMEs will be facilitated by the introduction of simplified procedures.
  • Regarding irregular work, the decree stipulates the suspension of a company’s activities when, during an inspection, the number of irregular workers is found to total 20% or more of the workforce. The number of regular workers will be calculated by consulting the compulsory documents that the enterprise is obliged to make available. The company will not be suspended in cases where the irregular worker is the single employee of the enterprise.
  • The decree makes it possible to request medical check-ups to assess workers’ fitness before they are hired. This option was not included in the previous legislation.
  • The new law introduces and modifies certain norms in relation to some of the most important innovations contained in the Consolidated Act, in particular regarding contracts. For example, the modifications introduce the concept of direct responsibility of the contractor in respect of health and safety measures applied by the contracting company. The new norm limits this responsibility exclusively to cases in which the contractor has juridical responsibility of the sites where the contract work or autonomous work takes place.
  • The decree reduces the administrative and penal sanctions regarding the fines to be paid. The new act is similar to the previous decree in allowing the judge to substitute a prison sentence with an administrative sanction if the accused entity has removed all sources of risk. However, the new decree modifies the exceptions. The amendments in this area have generated some debate.

Reactions of social partners

According to the General Confederation of Italian Industry (Confederazione Generale dell’Industria Italiana, Confindustria), the decree represents ‘a step forward’, because it not only envisages sanctions, as is the case for the Consolidated Act, but also focuses more on accident prevention, training and information.

In the opinion of the Confederal Secretary of the Italian Confederation of Workers’ Trade Unions (Confederazione Italiana Sindacati Lavoratori, Cisl), Fulvio Giacomassi, it marks ‘a new season’ where ‘the new norms in force become useful interventions’. Mr Giacomassi welcomes many aspects of the new measures, such as the introduction of the points licence; however, he is dissatisfied that Cisl’s criticism of the modifications to the system of sanctions has been ignored.

The Confederal Secretary of the Union of Italian Workers (Unione Italiana del Lavoro, Uil), Paolo Carcassi, considers the general aspects of the new measures to be positive; nonetheless, he has criticised ‘the weakening of the system of sanctions’.

According to the Confederal Secretary of the General Confederation of Italian Workers (Confederazione Generale Italiana del Lavoro, Cgil), Paola Agnello Modica, the government ‘continues to reduce workers’ rights, even in fundamental areas such as health and safety in the workplace’. The trade union confederation has criticised many aspects, including the modification of the sanctions regime and the medical check-up before hiring. Cgil has insisted that it is against the decree because the modifications will ‘reinforce the power of employers at the expense of the workers and their representatives’.

Vilma Rinolfi, Cesos

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