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Reportage. Telecom Italia’s reorganization plan will eliminate thousands of jobs thanks to a pension reform that allows companies to pay employees for early retirement. “We're talking about 20 percent of all the Italian employees of the company,” a union leader said.

Italy’s Telecom has engineered a plan to lay off 12,000 workers

These days, many people in Italy are talking about the Fornero pension reform as something “impossible to change.” But in fact, an amendment was passed only a month ago, as part of the 2018 budget law, which went almost unnoticed, but in fact changed a very important aspect of the pension reform, concerning large companies in particular.

It concerns an early retirement provision, fully distinct from the Ape aziendale (a provision for the possibility of early retirement of workers with the company paying for a part of the costs of their pension for the months remaining). The amendment to Article 4 of the 2011 law on pensions nearly doubled how many years of anticipation the so-called “isopensione” (a form of early retirement) would be available for, from four to seven years. This means that workers can retire up to seven years early, with full benefits, on the condition that their employer pays a sum corresponding to the contributions that would have been made by the workers to the pension fund if they had worked until the regular age of retirement. This is a heavy financial burden for an employer, which only multinationals would be able to afford: so far, only Enel and Telecom Italia have used this provision, for a very small number of employees.

But now, just a month after this modification to the law, in an unexpected move, Telecom Italia is proposing to offer early retirement with “isopensione” to a surprisingly high number of employees: at least 4,000. One begins to suspect, even if we do not have clear evidence, that the rule change was inserted after a request made by Telecom Italia itself to the government, in order for Telecom to be able to set up their upcoming restructuring plan concerning these 4,000 workers and many others.

These others will include 2,500 voluntary redundancies (i.e. employees offered compensatory payments to resign), and 3,500 workers being requalified to bring back into the company certain services that had been outsourced (which, of course, also means that the people who are performing these services outside the company are now at risk of losing their jobs). And, while Telecom is touting 2,000 new hires as part of this plan, they are planning to use the easiest option to cut corners in this regard: using the provision of the Jobs Act regarding “expansive solidarity,” which means in practice that every employee of the company will work 20 minutes less per day, and, with the respective savings, the company will be able to make room for 2,000 more “full time equivalent” jobs.

In effect, the plan aims to eliminate almost 12,000 workers out of a total of about 45,000—more than a quarter of the total. And the much-touted 2,000 new hires are less than a third of the 6,500 who are being put into retirement, resulting in a turnover of no more than 30 percent.

Furthermore, Telecom Italia’s “reorganization plan,” already anticipated in recent weeks by rumors circulating around the stock exchange, was officially presented to the trade unions today, and it put them again, as usual, between a rock and a hard place: either they come to an agreement on the new business plan that will be presented on March 6—says Telecom’s Head of Legal Affairs, Agostino Nuzzoli—or the company could proceed with “autonomous solutions”—meaning temporary layoff compensation and straightforward firings.

The total amount of compensations offered by Telecom Italia—newly owned by the French company Vivendi and headed by their trusted representative, the ex-Israeli military officer Amos Genish—is up to €700 million. In a joint statement, the unions SLC CGIL, FISTEL CISL and UILCOM criticize this sum as “insufficient to ensure the adequate compensation of the staff involved.”

“We’re talking about 20 percent of all the Italian employees of the company, a huge percentage that only a few years ago would have given people the chills,” says Fabrizio Solari, for many years a member of the leadership of CGIL, and now secretary general of SLC. “Now we perceive it as normal, because we no longer have defenses to help us judge correctly the scale of the proposals made by large corporations. Telecom is justifying this plan by pointing to the very high average age of the workers, but the real reason for this situation, which is certainly true, are the lack of hiring, the lack of turnover and the effects of the Fornero law.”

Comparing the Vivendi plan to the last one proposed by Cattaneo (the former CEO of Telecom Italia, who, after being paid millions to make his exit, has recently set up shop at NTV, the company of his old friend Montezemolo), Solari sees, however, some positive elements.

“If the only positive aspect of the Cattaneo plan was that it did not leave the field open for Open Fiber and Enel in the battle for the fiber optic infrastructure, the French have explained that they want to maintain Telecom’s network, and also that they want to work on the convergence of infrastructure and content, just like it is being done all over the world. But the problem,” Solari concluded, “is that we are beginning to suspect that in order to accomplish this, they intend to start with a plan of pure financial cost-cutting—cutting the cost of labor, pure and simple.”

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