Italian Labor Relations: A System in Transition

By Treu, Tiziano | Monthly Labor Review, March 1987 | Go to article overview

Italian Labor Relations: A System in Transition


Treu, Tiziano, Monthly Labor Review


Italian labor relations: a system in transition The mid-1970's marked a turning point in Italy's industrial relations system. At that time, the system appeared to be a case of pluralism, recognized and supported by the statute of workers' rights (Act 300/1970). The main aspects and institutions of industrial relations remained outside the legal regulation. In fact, trade unions and employers' associations exercised joint power. Trade unions reasoned that the registration procedure prescribed by article 39 of the Constitution could lead to more state interference in internal union affairs than the Constitution intended. There were no specific legal provisions concerning the procedure, scope, unit, or content of bargaining or the conduct expected of the parties to negotiations. Collective agreements were treated as contracts, binding only on the parties, although the courts indirectly extended collective wage rates to employees and employers who were not parties to the negotiations. In addition, no statutory regulation on work stoppages based on provisions of article 40 was passed, and the task of imposing limits on industrial conflict was again left to the courts.

The statute of workers' rights (Act 300/1970), which is still the fundamental source of law governing collective labor relations, marked a change of attitude towards organized labor, both regarding the constitutional approach of article 39 of the Constitution and the actual "abstentionism" of the 1950's and 1960's. The act intervenes not to regulate unions at the national level but to promote their presence and action at the plant level. The focus of the act is no longer on the recognition of unions and the extension of collective agreements, but on the basic rights granted to the most representative unions and workers for the promotion of union activity and collective bargaining in the workplace (usually enterprises with 15 employees or more). The most representative unions and union representatives were granted the time and the right to hold meetings on company premises, employee time off for union activities, checkoffs, and special protection against discrimination.

Legislative support, a favorable labor market, and political conditions of the late 1960's contributed to the development of unionization (from its lowest level of 22 percent in the mid-1960's to more than 50 percent in the mid-1970's) and collective bargaining. Individual labor law favored this approach, with minimum legal conditions providing a safety net for marginal employees, and nationwide and enterprisewide collective bargaining regulating wages and working conditions for the majority of employees. It is estimated that in the mid-1970's, more than 75 percent of factory employees were covered by collective agreements. Some features of individual labor law are more effective in supporting collective action. These include the protection of employees against discrimination and unfair dismissal contained in the statute of workers' rights; restrictions imposed by the act on employers' directive and disciplinary powers; and Social Security legislation which provides more than 80 percent of the wages lost by employees who are laid off or employed on a short-term basis because of production difficulties or restructuring in the enterprise. Social Security legislation departs from that of the 1950's and 1960's and responds to the new problems of an industrial system which faces difficulties and changes.

The pressure for change came in the mid-1970's during the serious economic crisis and consequent technological transformation which affected the socioeconomic system of most developed countries.

Italian industrial relations were built on the assumption that the economic system was capable of continuous and predictable growth within a relatively stable organization and technology. Collective bargaining, like unionization, was expected to expand much in the same way.

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