12 Dec 2014

Right to not get sacked: why Italian workers are striking

Two major Italian unions hold a nationwide strike against Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s plans to overhaul labour laws.

Demonstrators clashed with police in Milan on Friday as the unions held strikes across the country, the latest in a series of protests against labour reforms that would make it easier for companies to lay off workers.

Police said they made several arrests and television pictures showed officers in riot gear charging protesters who threw firecrackers and other objects.

Violent scuffles

Scuffles broke out when a group of some 20 students dressed in Santa Claus outfits climbed over the fence of the regional council headquarters and threw items including bottles and scissors at police officers (see video below).

The police fired teargas to disperse the crowds. Eleven police officers were injured in the scuffles, Italy’s SKY TG24 news channel reported.

The main target of Friday’s demonstrations was Mr Renzi’s Jobs Act, aimed at loosening restrictions on firing employees when companies face a business downturn and weakens a treasured right to protest unlawful dismissal.

With unemployment at record levels and youth jobless rates topping 40 per cent, unions say the burden of the reforms and spending cuts is being placed unfairly on workers and will do nothing to revive growth.

The strike by CGIL and UIL unions hit public transport as well as hospitals, schools and civil administrations throughout Italy. More than 50 rallies were planned across the country. Italy’s other main union, CISL, has also criticised the government’s handling of labour reform, but did not take part in Friday’s walkout.

What is the Jobs Act?

Mr Renzi’s controversial Jobs Act, a package of policies designed to instil greater flexibility in the Italian labour market, aims to remove the bureaucratic restraints that employers face when hiring and firing workers and applying for licenses.

The measures include a redefinition of company sizes, new rules on fixed-term contracts and most controversially a revision to article 18 of the Italian workers’ statute, which is in place to prevent companies downsizing during a crisis.

Article 18 requires employers to reinstate (not just compensate) workers whose dismissal is ruled unjust by the courts. Italian law goes further than any other in Europe in this respect. Article 18 discourages firms from hiring and deters foreign firms from investing in Italy

Who’s striking?

The Italian General Confederation of Labour (CGIL) is a national trade union centre in Italy. It was formed by agreement between socialists, communists, and Christian democrats in 1944.

But in 1950, socialists and Christian democrats split forming UIL and CISL, and since then the CGIL has been influenced by the Communist Party (PCI). It is the most important Italian trade union. It has a membership of over 5.5 million. The CGIL is currently the biggest trade union in Europe.

The Italian Labour Union, in Italian Unione Italiana del Lavoro (UIL), is a national trade union centre. It was founded in 1950 as socialist, social democratic, (republican) and laic split from Italian General Confederation of Labour (CGIL, Confederazione Generale Italiana del Lavoro). It represents almost 2.2 million workers.