Toward an Employment-Linked Welfare? Collective bargaining and Corporate Initiatives in Italy
In the light of the recent changes in Italian welfare – which has been
affected by reductions and privatizations, and, as a result, is less and
less able to provide adequate, universal protection – this essay gives
the main results of a survey carried out by Ires and the Polytechnic
University of the Marches on the characteristics of what is known as
corporate welfare in a sample of more than 300 large Italian businesses.
There emerges a widespread system of interventions, but one
that is to a great extent dominated by supplementary health and pension
funds, which have a limited capacity to deal with the so-called
«new social risks». In addition, many of the measures of this kind are
the by-products of national bargaining between the social partners.
Contractually Agreed Welfare and Bilateralism
Following the profound changes that have affected the socioeconomic
dimension and industrial relations, sectorial and corporate
welfare and bilateralism have gradually assumed more central importance.
In this context the essay investigates and reconstructs the main
features of these welfare phenomena in Italy, which are only new in
some respects. The central suggestion of the essay is that, while contractually
agreed welfare arrangements, along with a new, widespread
drive towards company welfare, can have some positive effects, particularly
in protecting needs that otherwise go unanswered, they also
risk weakening industrial relations, becoming tools that replace rather
than complement public, universal welfare.
The Role of Trade Unions in the Choices of Company Welfare
Corporate welfare is not in itself a novelty in the handling of human
resources. Companies and unions have often introduced these questions
to personnel policies, with the unions playing an active role
through cooperation and bargaining. There has been a consolidation
of this role through new policies for managing the labour force (in
matters concerning dispute settlements rather than health and supplementary
benefits), to the point that it has become increasingly institutionalized.
However, when the unions have fewer members in a
company, occupational welfare can be a way for companies to reduce
the potential role of the unions in personnel policies. The article presents
some case studies read in this light.
Pension and Health Funds in Company Welfare
Based partly on an analysis of particular companies, the essay analyses
the main characteristics of supplementary funds for pensions and
health. Overall, funds are becoming more widespread in both sectors
and, in particular, in the field of social security where the social partners
have a stronger role. They offer the future possibility of serving
as a second pillar of social security and health insurance, complementing
the public system, apart from some exceptions such as longterm
care. However, both the contribution systems and the services
guaranteed for workers vary considerably, depending on the sector and
the individual’s position in the firm. If these differences become more
marked instead of being at least partially absorbed, then clear inequalities
will be created between workers, and citizens in general, particularly if
there is a reduction in national social and health security.
Company Welfare and «New Social Risks»
The essay analyses the widespread welfare practices introduced by
companies, with particular reference to measures designed for the so-called «new social risks». Faced with the socio-economic changes that have been affecting Italy for twenty years now (from increasing care
needs to the importance of work-life balance, and the opening up of the labour market), Italy has for many years been notably slow in «recalibrating» its system of public welfare to deal with these changes. As
a result of the uncertainty and hesitancy of public action, companies,
workers and their representatives have been developing responses for
some years, starting from collective bargaining (often de-centred), or
unilateral choices by companies. This is increasing, and is starting to
have a significant role both inside companies and in the functioning
of public welfare. These changes present a series of challenges that
present both positive aspects as well as genuine problems.