Report. Workers in Italy secured a deal this weekend to protect their safety and livelihoods during the coronavirus emergency. It includes fever screening, shutdown provisions and financial guarantees.

Italian PM negotiates coronavirus safety agreement between workers and employers

After a night of tense negotiations, unions and employers reached an agreement on the new rules for workplace safety in the age of coronavirus. It was an agreement personally mediated by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte. 

“After 18 hours of a long and in-depth discussion,” Conte said, “the protocol has finally been signed. For the good of the country, for the protection of the health of workers. Italy will not stop.” The text says that the government “will favor its full implementation, in all matters pertaining to its competence.”

The document bears the title “Joint protocol for the regulation of measures to combat and contain the spread of the COVID-19 virus at the workplace,” and has been signed by the CGIL, CISL and UIL unions and the Confindustria, Confapi, Rete Imprese Italia and Alleanza delle Cooperative employers’ associations. In 12 pages and 13 articles, it sets out the conditions for protecting health and decreasing the risk of contagion as much as possible.

Production activities can only continue in the presence of “adequate” levels of protection. Production can also be stopped for a few days in order to guarantee these conditions, with recourse to the funds allocated as social shock absorbers.

Among the most important provisions are controls at the entrance to workplaces and possible measurements of body temperature: if a worker has a fever of over 37.5 degrees Celsius, they will be given proper assistance. Companies must ensure periodic sanitization of their premises and take all precautions regarding hygiene. If the nature of the work requires an interpersonal distance of less than one meter and other organizational solutions are not possible, masks and other protective devices must be used: gloves, goggles, overalls, earmuffs and lab coats in compliance with safety norms.

The access to common areas, including company cafeterias, smoking areas and changing rooms, will be subject to quotas limiting the number of workers present in them at the same time, and staggered entrance and exit times will be promoted as a solution in order to avoid contact in common areas as much as possible.

In accordance with the provisions of the national contracts, and preferably by agreement with the company trade union representatives, companies can also decide to shut down all departments other than those dealing with production. Employee shift plans must be provided in order to reduce contacts as much as possible and create distinct and identifiable groups.

In the event of closures, priority will be given to using the social shock absorber funds provided for in the government decree that will be published shortly.

In the event that a person present on the company premises develops a fever and symptoms of respiratory infection such as coughing, the HR personnel must proceed to isolate them and the others present on the premises. The company must immediately inform the health authorities.

A committee for the application and verification of compliance with the rules of the protocol must be set up at each company, with the participation of the company trade union representatives and workplace safety representatives.

In the first virtual press conference in the history of the CGIL union, Secretary General Maurizio Landini explained the provisions of the protocol by answering questions from workers—submitted via Facebook—and journalists. The rationale behind the signed protocol can be encapsulated in a simple principle: “Wherever there is work, it must be performed safely; if that is not possible, there are social shock absorbers in place, and nobody has to lose their job.” For Landini, this is “an important result: we have not solved all the problems, but we can guarantee the most that is possible for workers in the context of a completely unprecedented situation: their health and safety, also in terms of wage and income security, come first.”

The government’s promise is that “by the middle of next week, all workers will be guaranteed individual protection.” The whole protocol, however, will have to be implemented on a company-by-company basis: “You can’t decide with a magic wand all the way from Rome,” Landini emphasized.

Regarding the possible sanctions for companies that fail to comply with the protocol, Landini stressed that “if the conditions are not met, there will be no work performed; it’s not the case that the company will just have to pay a fine and go on producing.”

Landini also reminded everyone that “the virus could also be linked to a development model that does not respect the environment,” and stressed his proposal to “use this crisis to get rid of ‘flexibility’”: “We need global change, because our interdependence makes us understand that going back to the principle of ‘little homelands’ does not make any sense.”

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