Sunday, 11 January 2009

Organising atypical workers in Italy

Italian unions have been quite successful at organising atypical and precarious workers, writes Salvo Leonardi of the Social and Economic Research Institute (IRES), the think tank of the CGIL, in a new paper.
In absolute terms, Italy is the country with the highest number of trade union members in Europe, even though 50% are retired workers. Union density is also relatively high (33%) but has been going down for decades. Recently, however, there is a counter tendency, in which the unionisation of migrant workers plays an important role. This group now makes up 8% of trade union members.
In the end of the 1990s, the three union confederations set up specific unions for self-employed workers and agency workers (the union affiliated to CGIL – NIDIL –
is set to organise unemployed workers as well).
NIDIL now has 33,000 members; CISL-affiliated ALAI has 28,000. Activities of the unions of atypical workers include negotiating collective agreements with temp agencies (90% of agency workers are covered) and helping agency workers get access to workplace democracy and sectoral education funds.
In addition, company-level agreements are negotiated in the public sector (local government), nonprofit sector and private sector (call centres, polling institutes) which cover around 120,000 out of the 1,500,000 so-called assistants, a type of self-employed workers. In the public sectors and call centres, the negotiations are conducted jointly by the atypical workers’ unions and the stable workers’ unions. The aim is to introduce the principle of ‘equal pay for equal work’. Further, NIDIL has succeeded in obtaining stable work for 20,000 precarious workers, especially in call centres.
Some large unions (of metal workers and public sector employees) are critical of the atypical workers’ unions. Not only do they feel threatened, but they also hold that workers at one and the same workplace should by organised by the same union regardless of their employment status.
Source: Salvo Leonardi (2008), Union Organisation of Employees in Atypical and Precarious Work in Italy. International Journal of Action Research 4(3): 203-24. Photo: CGIL.

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