Interview. In an interview, the Dems’ labor spokesperson described the opposition’s proposal as a way to protect the dignity of all workers, including in sectors where union representation is weaker.

Maria Cecilia Guerra: €9 minimum wage is a ‘cutting-edge proposal’

We spoke with Maria Cecilia Guerra, the Italian Democratic Party’s representative for labor issues, about the opposition’s proposal for a €9 minimum wage.

Ms. Guerra, the unified proposal of the opposition – with the exception of Renzi’s Italia Viva – on the minimum wage is certainly a positive new political development. On the merits, it’s a step forward from the text presented by former Labor Minister Andrea Orlando, which limited its scope to certain sectors.

Certainly, the proposal reflects the fact that the debate has matured, involving both the trade union world and the business world. It is a cutting-edge proposal, because it’s not just about the minimum wage, but it is aimed at giving concrete form to the application of the constitutional principle of just compensation, starting with employee work but expanding it to independent work and some of the self-employed. No matter what sector a worker is in, they would know that by law, they have a right to the provisions of the labor contract signed by the comparatively most representative trade union. And if there is no collective contract for the sector, the contract of a closely related sector will apply; similarly, if it doesn’t cover their role specifically, the contract for an equivalent role will apply. In this way, there would be no worker left unprotected by this measure.

The minimum wage itself is an additional guarantee aimed at those sectors where the labor world is more fragmented and the unions are weaker: there is a minimum limit of €9 per hour, and it is not allowed to go below that because the pay becomes undignified. This limit would also apply in collective bargaining. Nonetheless, the crux of the proposal is to let collective bargaining lead the way.

As the opposition, you have the power to introduce a bill for debate in Parliament. Will you do this for the minimum wage? When? And what do you think will happen?

We intervened in a parliamentary process that was already underway on the minimum wage, with several proposals that were being worked on in the ordinary way, through hearings, which we also took into account. Then, seeing that there is a lot of agreement among the opposition forces, we managed to find a common text quite easily: it was more a matter of dampening the particular ambitions of the various groups by focusing on the issue of the minimum wage in particular, because this issue is all too relevant.

The floor debate has already been scheduled for July 27. We will now present this bill and ask that it be adopted as the basic text. Then we will get to the amendment stage, which at this point is the responsibility of the majority alone, and then we’ll go to the Chamber. That might take until September. Because it is such a major issue, the majority will have a hard time avoiding the floor debate, as they did on the Mothers in Prison Act or on voting rights for off-campus students. They will have to explain why they’re against it.

CISL has historically been against the measure, arguing that the law should not intervene in collective bargaining matters, but it was quickly pointed out that Sbarra’s position was basically identical to that of Minister Calderone.

We knew about CISL’s position; however, I think there is room for dialogue, because their concern is that the role of the unions should not be diminished, and we don’t do that, as we give a very central role and a lot of space to collective bargaining.

As for the government, they don’t yet have a real position, because they spoke in abstract terms, not going into the merits. Meloni has made the argument that we don’t need a minimum wage, we need to reduce the tax wedge instead: these are two issues that aren’t in opposition, we need both of them. Our slogan is: work must be compensated.

Maybe €9 per hour would have been a cutting-edge proposal a year ago. But now, inflation is high and it’s eroding wages. Also, Power to the People is collecting signatures in support of €10 per hour, with full indexing. Furthermore, across Europe, the minimum wage is €12 in Germany and €11 in France.

First of all, it must be pointed out that the minimum wage is the base-level wage, without seniority bonuses or benefits: the so-called Minimum Economic Compensation (TEM) provided in collective bargaining. If we look at the recommendations of the European Directive, it would have to be between 50 percent of the average wage and between 70 and 60 percent of the median wage. So €9 per hour is a sufficient level at the moment.

The problem is that in Italy there has been wage shrinkage for decades, without focusing on innovation, both technological and ecological. We envision annual updates for the minimum wage, in a process managed by the social stakeholders. On the other hand, automatic indexing would hinder collective bargaining.

From CGIL in particular, there is a request to tie the proposal to a law on union representation. 

Without needing to pass a law on representation, we would obtain in an indirect manner – that is, through Article 36 instead of Article 39 of the Constitution – the application to all workers of the contracts negotiated by the comparatively most representative labor organizations. Obviously, we will then have to get to a real law on representation. But in the meantime, we have begun to fight against precariousness, involuntary part-time and vouchers, collaborations, misclassified independent contractors, occasional services; even self-employment contracts, which can be traced back to an hourly wage because the service required can be linked to the time needed to perform it.

Let’s try to explain how the law would work. Take, for example, a private security guard who has just had his contract renewed after eight years, at €6 per hour. With the so-called “ascertainment notice” mechanism, would he be able to get his pay raised to 9 euros per hour? 

If the proposal becomes law, when a worker is paid under €9 an hour, even if they’re working under a national collective contract signed by unions, they will be able to call in the labor inspectors, who will issue an administrative notice called an “ascertainment notice,” which simply means “I have verified that you are not in compliance with the minimum wage law,” and within a year, if the national contract doesn’t change, they will force the employer to start paying the worker €9 per hour. We also included a basic level of temporary public economic support for the sectors most in need.

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