The Contentious Politics of Agency Work in Italy and Germany: Institutions, Actors and Strategies

Saturday, June 25, 2016: 4:15 PM-5:45 PM
259 Dwinelle (Dwinelle Hall)
Chiara Benassi, Royal Holloway, University of London, Egham, United Kingdom
Lisa Dorigatti, University of Milan, Milan, Italy
Labour markets have been deregulated across Europe, leading to an overall increase in precarious work. While the literature has mostly examined the politics of labour market liberalization at national level, the (de)regulation of contingent work also occurs at other levels (e.g. sectoral and workplace). This paper examines the multilevel arena where such regulation takes place, taking into account actors' strategies at different levels and the interaction between regulatory levels. In particular, it looks at the role played by trade unions in the (re)regulation of precarious work in the context of labour market liberalization.

The empirical focus is on trade unions’ strategies towards agency workers in the metal sector in Italy and in Germany. According to the dualization literature, both countries are characterized by dual labour markets, to which unions contributed by focusing exclusively on the interests of permanent workers. We show instead that unions have developed organizing and bargaining strategies aimed at improving agency workers' conditions. However, the form those strategies have taken and the extent to which unions have included agency workers in their representation domain vary between the two national contexts.

In Italy, the three confederal unions for precarious workers have signed agreements in the agency sector which set relatively high benefits for agency workers. Moreover, the three main metal unions tried to counter liberalization at sectoral level by introducing stricter limits to the use of agency work and shorter transition periods to permanent contracts than those set by law and by the agency agreement. However, in the last decade, a growing split between the two moderate unions, FIM and UILM, and the left-wing union, FIOM, led to a decreasing capacity to regulate agency work at sectoral level. Therefore, FIOM started bargaining company-level agreements aimed at improving the conditions of agency workers within represented workplaces.

In Germany, in contrast, collective agreements for the agency sector set low standards for agency workers. This was due to competition between the unions affiliated to the German Trade Union Confederation and the Christian trade unions. At workplace-level, works councils often accepted the use of agency workers as flexibility buffers, making little attempt to regulate the phenomenon. Only recently, the metal union IG Metall ran a sectoral campaign aimed at organising agency workers, to encourage works councils’ engagement and to support sectoral bargaining. Sectoral agreements were signed in 2010 and 2012 setting wage bonuses and rules about the permanent hiring of agency workers.

Preliminary findings point at three interacting variables, which explain these different union strategies and outcomes: the legal regulation of agency work, inter-union competition and the relationship between workplace representatives and unions. The empirical evidence is based on union statements, internal reports and sectoral and company-level agreements. We also conducted 25 interviews at sectoral and company level (automotive) in Germany and, for the moment, several explorative interviews in Italy. The study covers the time frame between the end of the Nineties and 2015.