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Fiat staff under pressure over reforms

June 15, 2010

by Guy Dinmore, published June 16 2010
Fiat car workers opposed to demands for sweeping changes in work practices and labour rights at a plant in Naples came under intense pressure yesterday to vote in favour of management’s proposals in a ballot next week that is being seen as a test case for Italian industrial relations.

Four unions agreed on Tuesday to Fiat’s demands — a precondition for investing 700m euros in the Pomigliano D’Arco plant — but the largest metalworkers union, Fiom, refused to sign and denounced the proposed ballot as “blackmail”.

Guglielmo Epifani, leader of the CIGL federation which includes Fiom, said on Wednesday that it was important for all workers to take part in the June 22 ballot at the plant and declared that he believed a majority would vote in favour.

Fiat’s investment plans for Italy focus on closing a plant in Sicily but expanding output at Pomigliano by transferring production of the Panda model from Poland. Sergio Marchionne, chief executive, has indicated that Pomigliano would have no future if all the unions did not come on board.

Emma Marcegaglia, head of the Confindustria employers lobby, said yesterday it would be “incredible” if workers voted against Fiat’s plan that “goes in the face of history” with its intention to transfer production back to Italy from abroad.

But Massimo Brancato, head of Fiom in Naples, told the Financial Times that the vote was a form of blackmail. “Fiat knows that if you ask a worker to work or die, you vote to work,” he said.

Fiom has some 700 members among a workforce of nearly 5,150 at Pomigliano. Most workers at the plant, which mainly produces two outdated Alfa Romeo models, have been on reduced pay on extended leave or working part time for much of the last two years. The crisis has also had a considerable impact on several thousand workers in firms dependant on supplying Fiat.

Fiom’s regional and Naples leadership is to meet today (Thursday) to consider its position on the ballot that was called by Fiat and the other four unions.

Fiom leaders say Fiat’s demands, including possible sanctions against absenteeism and strikers, broke existing labour contracts and were unconstitutional.

Mr Marchionne, who is holding out the prospect of doubling car production and investing a total of 20bn euros in Italy by 2014, is playing a strong hand against a divided union movement and a weakened centre-right government that has limited options in putting pressure on Italy’s largest private sector employer.

Employers are watching events closely, seeing Fiat as a test case in how Italy handles industrial relations at a national and local level. Fiat had no immediate comment yesterday.

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