Analysis. After years of divisions, the opposition parties except Italia Viva established a common minimum wage. The CISL union was another voice of dissent, seeking to keep wages between workers and employers rather than codified in law.

Italian opposition (except Renzi) unites around €9 minimum wage

In the current disastrous state of the left and the opposition, the shared proposal for a minimum hourly wage of €9 per hour, signed by the PD, M5S, Azione, the Greens and Italian Left Alliance and Più Europa, is an important and unexpected achievement.

The political significance is clear: for the first time since the beginning of the legislature, the opposition is unified on a major and challenging issue – with the expected absence of Matteo Renzi and Italia Viva, the right’s little helpers.

“The need for action to guarantee that workers’ wages are adequate, particularly for those who are in poverty, also due to inflation, is an essential element of all our electoral programs. This is why we have been working on a single proposal that we will put on the agenda of the Chamber in the coming days,” says the joint message by Giuseppe Conte, Nicola Fratoianni, Matteo Richetti, Elly Schlein, Angelo Bonelli and Riccardo Magi, stressing that “the time has come to fully implement Article 36 of the Constitution, which requires that workers be paid a wage that is proportionate to the quantity and quality of the work they perform and sufficient to guarantee a free and dignified existence for themselves and their families.”

On the merits, it’s clear that the common text is advanced and progressive.

For years, the minimum wage issue had been dividing the political and trade union left, with great divergence among their positions. The M5S, PD and Italian Left failed to find a compromise during the Conte 2 government, when they were together in government and part of the majority.

The unions’ situation was the same: after an initial phase of skepticism on the part of all the union confederations, CGIL and UIL had said they were willing to set a minimum hourly wage on the condition that, in parallel, the provisions of the national contracts would be extended to all workers, and that a rule on representation would be introduced that would avoid “pirate” contracts such as the “serfdom” contract signed by UGL and Assodelivery in 2019, which locked delivery workers into piecemeal work.

The real loser from this proposal is thus CISL, whose secretary, Luigi Sbarra, was still arguing as late as a month ago that “we should implement a minimum wage with the contracts,” asking to refrain from codifying it into law.

In June 2022 came the European Directive, which in any case does not imply an obligation for Italy to have a minimum wage – one of only six countries out of 27 without one. The Directive does, however, establish a minimum level of compensation to stay above the poverty line, which Eurostat calculated as €7.66 per hour in 2018 – a value higher than the minimum wage set out in a number of national contracts signed by the union confederations, including the recent renewal of the private security workers’ contract.

Still, divisions remained. Former Labor Minister PD Andrea Orlando’s proposal was to apply as the “minimum wage” for each industry the total compensation resulting from the minimums provided in the national contract for that sector – likewise rejecting the establishment of a common minimum hourly wage for all.

In the end, the current proposal is very close to that of the other former Labor Minister, Nunzia Catalfo of the M5S, now no longer in Parliament due to having already served two terms.

The text specifies that “the worker in each economic sector shall be paid an overall economic compensation not less than that provided for by the collective agreements entered into by the comparatively most representative employers’ and trade union organizations,” which thus satisfies the requests of CGIL and UIL. “As a further guarantee of the payment of a just wage, a mandatory minimum threshold of 9 euros per hour shall in any case be introduced, in order to particularly protect the most fragile and poorest sectors of the world of work, in which the bargaining power of trade union organizations is weaker.”

The proposal provides that the “fair pay” condition should also cover “independent workers and self-employment,” although there’s no explanation on how that would work. It also provides, as per the European Directive, for “a commission composed of the representatives of institutions and social partners to periodically update the minimum hourly wage.”

Finally, it “recognizes a period of time to adjust contracts to the new regime, and an economic subsidy to support employers for whom this adjustment is more onerous.” It thus ends by extending an olive branch towards Confindustria, which sees the minimum wage as a punch to the gut for business owners.

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