Trade unions split on renewal agreements for public sector workers

In late January 2009, the Italian trade unions, with the exception of the General Confederation of Italian Workers (Cgil), signed renewal agreements for public sector employees in ministries, inland revenue agencies, non-economic bodies and schools. These agreements awarded pay increases to about 1.5 million workers. However, Cgil argued that the increments were too low and therefore held a referendum among public sector workers, as well as calling a general strike in the sector.

The Public Sector Bargaining Relations Agency (Agenzia per la Rappresentanza Negoziale delle Pubbliche Amministrazioni, ARAN) and the sectoral trade unions signed two collective contract renewals for government employees. Both accords were reached on 23 January 2009, renewing the 2008–2009 agreements for the following two branches of the public sector:

  • workers in government ministries, inland revenue agencies, non-economic bodies and schools, covering a total of 286,000 employees. This agreement was signed by: the Federation of Public and Service Workers (Federazione dei Lavoratori Pubblici e dei Servizi, FPS-Cisl), affiliated to the Italian Confederation of Workers’ Trade Unions (Confederazione Italiana Sindacati Lavoratori, Cisl); the Public Administration Workers’ Union (Pubblica Amministrazione, UIL-PA), affiliated to the Union of Italian Workers (Unione Italiana del Lavoro, Uil); and the Union of National Autonomous Unions (Unione nazionale sindacati autonomi, Unsa), affiliated to the General Confederation of Autonomous Workers’ Trade Unions (Confederazione Generale dei Sindacati Autonomi dei Lavoratori, Confsal);
  • school employees, covering a total of 1,146,000 employees. This agreement was signed by: Cisl’s federation of education workers (Cisl Scuola); Uil’s federation of education workers (Uil Scuola); the National Autonomous Trade Union of School Workers (Sindacato Nazionale Autonomo Lavoratori Scuola, Snals), affiliated to Confsal; and the autonomous teacher’s confederation (Confederazione Gilda-Unams, CGU).

The agreements stipulate a gross pay increase of €78 for the period 2008–2009 for employees in government ministries, inland revenue agencies and non-economic bodies, in addition to a pay rise of €70 for school employees. The increases correspond to the inflation rate of 3.2% forecast by the government for the two-year period 2008–2009.

The respective sectoral federations of the General Confederation of Italian Workers (Confederazione Generale Italiana del Lavoro, Cgil) refused to sign the agreements – the Public Service Union (Funzione Pubblica, FP-Cgil) for civil-service workers and the Knowledge Workers’ Federation (Federazione Lavoratori della Conoscenza, FLC-Cgil).

Reactions to agreement

The signatories to the agreement regarded the economic accord as a positive development: according to Cisl and Uil, the pay increase was ‘significant’ under the current economic crisis.

On the other hand, Cgil opposed the agreements. The confederation refused to sign both agreements on the grounds that the pay increases were ‘inadequate’ with respect to the real rise in the cost of living. In 2008 alone, the latter had been above 3%, whereas the new pay increases agreed amounted to an extra 3.2%, equal to the inflation rate forecast by the government for the entire two-year period 2008–2009.

Cgil referendum and general strikes

Cgil’s opposition to the renewal agreements prompted it to mount two initiatives. The first measure consisted of a referendum on the agreements held among public employees; the second initiative involved the mobilisation of workers through a general strike.

The referendum was held on 9–10 February 2009 in government ministries, and on 23 February in schools. According to Cgil, some 94,500 ministry workers and 400,000 school employees participated in the referendum. In both cases, the percentage of votes against the renewal agreements amounted to about 95%.

Finally, Cgil announced that it called two general strikes in the public sector: on 13 February for government employees, and on 18 March for school employees. The first of the two strikes was organised jointly with the Italian Federation of White-Collar and Blue-Collar Metalworkers (Federazione Impiegati Operai Metallurgici, Fiom-Cgil), in order to also protest against the government’s allegedly inadequate anti-crisis measures.

Commentary

The separate signing of the renewal agreements confirms the widening industrial relations split that is emerging between Italy’s largest trade union confederations. On the one hand, Cisl and Uil are more inclined to reach agreements with the government and the employer associations, while Cgil, on the other hand, is determined not to sign agreements that it regards as unsatisfactory. For this reason, Cgil is isolated from the other unions. The last significant national collective agreement that Cgil refused to sign was that concluded for workers in commerce and services in July 2008 (IT0809029I).

The general sectoral strike of 13 February, held jointly with Fiom-Cgil and FP-Cgil, saw the two largest Cgil federations, representing employees in the private sector and the public administration, join forces. According to media commentators (such as Sole 24 Ore and Corriere della Sera), an alliance of this kind, unprecedented in the history of Italian trade unionism, is more a sign of the weakness than the strength of the country’s largest trade union organisation.

Livio Muratore, Fondazione Regionale Pietro Seveso

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