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Govt may ignore unions in civil-service reform drive

Tight deadlines mean cuts could be imposed without consultation

25 March, 19:20
Govt may ignore unions in civil-service reform drive (By Sandra Cordon) (ANSA) - Rome, March 25 - There may be no time for the government of Premier Matteo Renzi to undertake extensive discussions with labor unions over plans to dramatically change Italy's public sector, Simplification Minister Marianna Madia said Tuesday. "It's not certain whether or not there will be meetings, because we're working under very tight deadlines," said the rookie minister. "It could happen, but it's not a given," she added. "We've asked the unions to propose alternatives to the plan," said Madia. The government's spending czar, Carlo Cottarelli, has identified five billion euros he says can be cut from the Italian budget in the next eight months, including savings from eliminating thousands of jobs.

However, Renzi has said that is not the final figure, and the government will pick and choose from Cottarelli's list that includes savings on pricey, top-level pensions, bloat in the healthcare sector, expensive military spending, and red tape in general. Madia said the government is considering methods to "modernize" the public service, including offering early retirement to open up positions and possibly also provide jobs for young Italians under 25, a demographic where the jobless rate for is more than 42%.

She suggested that as many as 85,000 jobs have been identified for potential cuts, but cautioned that the number is open for misinterpretation and repeated a call for union input.

"I hope that the unions are the first to work with us".

Meanwhile, Labour Minister Giuliano Poletti warned that there are no easy answers to the job crisis.

Although the government is hoping to hasten the economic recovery, "I think 2014 will be another year of great suffering," for the unemployed, said Poletti. The average jobless rate in Italy in 12.9%.

Some union leaders have already complained that relations with Renzi, who has clashed several times with the unions since being sworn in as premier last month, were "non-existent".

On Tuesday, Susanna Camusso, general-secretary of the powerful CGIL union, expressed frustration with the government's rush to public service reforms, saying politicians are ignoring all other voices.

"Today in the country and in the political debate, union confederations are considered an obstacle to be removed," and politicians are competing to distance themselves from unions, she said.

And reforms to the public service cannot be rushed, she added.

"Either we deeply change the public administration, or is very difficult to imagine that it is the engine of job creation and change," for the country, she said, hinting that hasty reforms might lead to reckless patronage.

"We would like to prevent it from becoming a giant campaign of political appointments".

Renzi has presented himself as a man in a hurry and frequently publicized his desire to complete what he calls essential reforms to the weak Italian economy as quickly as possible.

He likely also worries that the public tolerance for government promises of reform is low, given that he is the country's fourth premier in under three years - a period that has also seen Italy sideswiped by its worst recession since the Second World War.

As if to illustrate his desire to move quickly, Renzi ducked out of a formal dinner in the Netherlands Monday night, after meetings with world leaders from the Group of Seven leading industrialized nations, to quickly return to Rome and domestic matters.

Madia's comments on consultations echo similar remarks made Monday by Poletti, who warned that although Renzi's government intends to consult interested parties before labour market reforms, it will ultimately do whatever is necessary to deal with serious unemployment.

In a radio interview, Poletti said that as labour minister, his role will involve discussions with "social partners" including union leaders - but the government will have final say.

"It is our intention to meet and discuss, but in the end the government will decide," what course of action to take, Poletti said. "If anyone thinks to try to overturn what we have done, we will oppose that with all our might," he added.

Last week, Camusso condemned a decree extending the limit for temporary contracts from one year to three years, described as a central part of Renzi's so-called Jobs Act to simplify labour regulations and reduce the current plethora of different contracts and benefits available.

The government also plans to introduce a single form of labour contract that could be applied across the country, which Camusso has said her union is willing to discuss - but only if the decree is scrapped.

"This measure introduces greater flexibility and job insecurity, as a person can be hired and fired for three years without any reason or cause," Camusso said late last week.