ITALY - The Christmas season is over but it did not bring glad tidings to the Italian government in pension reform negotiations with trade unions. The two sides met and parted with not much common ground left between them.
It looks increasingly likely the country’s three biggest unions – CGIL, CISL and UIL, which represent almost half of Italy’s 23m workers – will ask their members to strike.
On 12 January, Guglielmo Epifani, leader of CGIL, the largest and most hard-line of the three unions, said an agreement “is to be excluded as there are issues which are unbridgeable.” The head of UIL, Luigi Angeletti, said:
“We are perplexed as we wanted precise answers and did not get them.”
The two sides are in a deadlock over pension reforms that would start in 2008 and make Italians work for at least 40 years, or until they are 65 for men and 60 for women. Currently Italians can retire at 57 if they have paid 35 years of contributions.
So far a four-party coalition in government, headed by Businessman-turned-politician Silvio Berlusconi, has weathered previous strike action. The unions brought their members out on to the streets on 24 October and 6 December last year in protest against pension reforms.
The government in December decided to postpone the parliamentary vote on these changes to the end of January as a goodwill gesture to the unions. “We are available to continue talks, as long we maintain the deadline of end of January for approval of the reforms,” said labour minister Roberto Maroni.
However, the Alleanza Nazionale and UDC parties of Berlusconi’s coalition appear keen not to break off talks – nor will the prime minister have forgotten that in the battle over pensions with the unions in 1994 he was the one left biting the dust, and out of office.
The government expects the reforms will reduce public spending by 0.7% of gross domestic product a year by 2012. Italy currently spends about 15% of its GDP on pensions, one of the highest in the European Union, and holds the biggest debt in the EU.
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