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08/11/2017

Italian collective bargaining at a turning point

WP C.S.D.L.E. “Massimo D’Antona”.INT – 139/2017



This is the Italian country report of the European Project DECOBA, funded by the European Commission and promoted and coordinated by the Fondazione Di Vittorio, with a partnership including the University of Leuven (HIVA), “La Sapienza” Rome (Faculty of sociology), the Hans Boeckler Foundation, IRES France, the Fundacion 1° de Mayo, the ETUC.

To be soon published in Leonardi and Pedersini (eds.), Multi-employer bargaining under pressure. Decentralization trends in five European Countries, Brussels, ETUI (forthcoming).



In the past eight years the Italian system of industrial relations has been undergoing a prolonged transitional phase. The various causes are both exogenous and endogenous, economic as well as institutional. In this article, we describe how all these challenges are affecting and transforming some of the key features of collective bargaining in Italy. The recent state interventionism has posed a serious challenge to the traditional primacy of multi-employer bargaining and has exacerbated an insidious process of segmentation with regard to labour standards and protections. The fragmentation of the employers' organization raise the problem of so-called ‘pirate’ agreements, signed by ambiguous associations, risks to undermine the whole system, fostering fraudulent strategies and downward contractual dumping. At firm-level, decentralized bargaining has not taken off, and in spite of all the legal and fiscal pushes, coverage remains very limited and strongly linked to their size and unionization. Nevertheless, social dialogue remains fairly lively and reactive, as clearly indicated by the inter-confederal agreements on representativeness and collective bargaining. The system’s capacity to reform itself should also be appreciated, as should the willingness of the three main trade union confederations to overcome harsh divisions between 2009 and 2011. The two traditional levels remain in place, although weakened, while disorganised decentralisation, with firm-level agreements used as an open alternative to sectoral ones, has not taken place. Derogating from sectoral agreements concerns probably 5-10 per cent of company agreements. The major threat seems instead to come from the top, in terms of contractual dumping, rather than from below, where derogations seem to be relatively under control. That’s why these developments deserve to be adequately supported by the state by means of auxiliary legislation that – transposing the best outcomes of social dialogue – restores to the system as a whole the certainty, transparency and enforceability that are currently missing. The situation is very open and evolving and over the coming months we may well see more clearly whether the turmoil of these long, critical years is reaching an end.

author(s): Leonardi, Salvo – Ambra, Maria Concetta – Ciarini, Andrea
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