Does Matteo Renzi’s approach to labour relations spell an end to social partnership in Italy?


The Democratic Party’s (PD) electoral success in Italy during the recent European elections has given a high degree of legitimacy to Matteo Renzi’s government, considering the fact that its formation did not follow an electoral victory.

But the question is, now that Italy has taken over the presidency of the Council of the European Union, will Renzi find similar success with his approach towards labour relations?

If the preparation and implementation of the Job Acts is anything to go by then there have been some concerns about the precedent being set. This was a process that has failed to include the country’s social partners, despite Italy’s long-standing tradition of social dialogue.

Susanna Camusso, Federal Secretary of the main Italian trade union, Confederazione Generale Italiana del Lavoro (CGIL) has criticised Renzi ’s “self-sufficient” stance, while tensions between the government and some sections of the union movement in Italy have also been fuelled by reports of discussion which took place between the new Italian prime minister and Maurizio Landini, the head of FIOM, CGIL’s division of metalworkers.

Renzi and Landini’s discussion mainly focused on the law on union representation.
Landini appears to be open to new ideas on workers representation, supporting ideas like the introduction of primary elections to select board-members of trade unions.

But Renzi’s brand of dialogue-free policy-making reflects a broader crisis of worker representation in Italy.


A new labour market

Historically, the Italian social partnership functioned as a balance between labour, capital and political power at a time when the country’s more ‘stable’ labour market consisted of a large number of SMEs and a few big companies.

Nowadays, the Italian labour market is rather characterised by a dual system, with one group of workers with decent work and permanent contracts on the one hand and a sizeable number of precarious workers with few rights and even fewer prospects of a better job on the other.

Even though the trade unions have implemented a number of campaigns to represent new categories of workers, there is a general sense of mistrust towards these organisations, especially amongst young workers.

The merging of flexible work, an increase of self-employed workers and precariousness jobs, linked to the rise of unemployment that grew as a result of the financial crisis has also clearly compromised the ability of trade unions everywhere to represent workers.

The challenge therefore is to make sure that social partnership isn’t limited to a fraction of the workforce but to all of it, and that Renzi’s government will wake up to Italy’s new labour-market reality.