Social Partners' Experiences in Improving Welfare Provisions for Atypical Employment: The Case of Temporary Agency Work in Italy

Thursday, 2 July 2015: 4:00 PM-5:30 PM
TW2.1.02 (Tower Two)
Marcello Pedaci, University of Teramo, Teramo, Italy
As other «mixed-market economies», in the recent years, even more after the onset of the economic crisis (and the acceptance of austerity priorities), Italian economy has undergone a relevant growth in the level of inequality, with new and exacerbated divides and dualisms. These developments are closely linked to structural factors/changes (massive and real), but are strongly affected by politics (labour market policies, social policies, etc.); in other terms, they are the outcome of conflicts and choices in the political sphere. Many scholars have focused on the reforms of labour market, greatly oriented to the promotion of numerical flexibility, in particular through the introduction of non-standard forms of employment; these reforms have not been accompanied by coherent and complete reforms of social security able to give new forms of protection for the growing number of flexible workers. This process has produced new important inequality, divides, dualisms.

A number of studies have dealt with the way in which unions and employers’ associations have participated, especially during the 1990s, to the set-up of welfare state reforms through tripartite social dialogue at national level. But at the same time, a rising strand of research underlines that unions and employers’ associations play an important role in welfare reorganization through collective bargaining, trying to fill the gaps created by welfare state retrenchment, negligence or inactivity. The paper concurs on this argument. We focuses on social partners’ experiences by using collective negotiations in building up/improving welfare provisions for workers with atypical employment, specifically in the sector of temporary agency work. Analysing contents and impact of collective bargaining, we emphasise that both positive and critical evaluations highlight important issues.

We show that collective bargaining in the Italian TAW sector has introduced relevant social security provisions, such as maternity leave, unemployment benefits, opportunities for the stabilisation of the employment relationship, «availability allowance» for periods in which agency workers are not working in user firms, supplementary pension schemes, etc This confirms the important role played by collective bargaining in providing welfare measures to support workers.

But at the same time, our analysis underlines four main areas of concern. First, specific institutional conditions favoured the rise of contractual welfare in the TAW sector and this «institutional embeddedness» means that it is very difficult to «export» such a system of social security provisions to other segments of non-standard employment. Specific conditions regard: on the one side the characteristics of the system of interests’ representation (the organizational structure and resources of unions and employers’ associations and the dynamics between them); on the other side the role played by the State, through the definition of a regulatory framework, that has prevented a great fragmentation of the sector, through a direct endorsement to the regulatory role of collective bargaining, called to regulate numerous issues, and through a strong support to bilateral funds/bodies and to collective negotiated benefits in different area.

A second concern, as said, relates to the difficulty to «export» such a system of collectively negotiated welfare provisions, to extend it to other segments of non-standard employment. And this difficulty may introduce – in the absence of State intervention – a stable segmentation and disparity in terms of protection among non-standard workers. Third, we show how the main features of the TAW sector together with the specific working conditions of TA workers may have hindered a widespread use of such welfare provisions; there continues to be a limited application of some of the measures that have been introduced by collective bargaining; they are still underutilized and below their potentialities. This suggests that social partners have to continue to extend, adjust, innovate their strategies, practices, initiatives; as some of them are doing.

But, in more general terms, the question of social protection and vulnerability of TA workers (as well as of other workers with different types of atypical contract) requires much more resources and dedication also by other actors, in particular by the political actors. The final concern, indeed, relates to the fact that the kind of benefits supported by collective bargaining are «integrative» and not substitutive of traditional forms of welfare. Negotiated welfare provisions in the TAW sector may help workers to face the risks they are exposed to, but without an efficient policy mix between collectively negotiated benefits and other forms of welfare TA workers will continue to be over-exposed to high social risks.