Fiat faces strike by metalworkers

December 29
One of Italy’s largest unions has called a national strike as Fiat-Chrysler chief executive Sergio Marchionne made crucial gains in his campaign to introduce more flexible working practices at the carmaker’s Italian plants.

The strike, called by the militant metalworkers’ union Fiom for January 28, comes as Fiat and the three of the larger unions, excluding Fiom, on Wednesday struck a crucial agreement that experts say could shake up car manufacturing in Italy.

Mr Marchionne signed a new contract for 4,600 workers at Fiat’s Pomigliano plant near Naples, a site long hit by absenteeism.

The Pomigliano contract is the first in Italy to be drafted outside of national union rules. It lays the foundations for a new contract for Fiat’s Mirafiori plant in Turin and for the car sector in general, experts say.

The deal introduces new rules for wages and seniority increases and more flexible working hours for all those working on new Fiat models. New hiring is expected to start in January.

A similar preparatory agreement with the union leaders has been struck regarding the Mirafiori plant in Fiat’s home town of Turin. This will go to a referendum among union workers in mid-January.

In return for the labour changes, which include cuts to breaks and stricter rules on absenteeism, Fiat has said it will invest €20bn in Italy by 2014.

Fiom, which has some 350,000 members equal to 12 per cent of Fiat’s workforce, did not sign the agreements for Pomigliano or Mirafiori. It has called the January strike claiming Mr Marchionne’s negotiating tactics were “anti-democratic”.

Mr Marchionne has threatened to pull Fiat, Italy’s largest private employer, out of the country all together if an agreement was not achieved by the end of December.

Mr Marchionne, a Canadian-Italian, has sent shockwaves through Italy’s union movement with his efforts to move Italy to more US-style working practices, in line with the Chrysler operation.

Next year with be vital for the automaker to show its Fiat-Chrysler tie-up can increase profitability as it aims to produce cars in the US under the Chrysler brand, as well as expanding the launch of Fiat car brands into the US market.

Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister, and Umberto Bossi, Mr Berlusconi’s closest ally and leader of the Northern League political party, have welcomed agreements by unions to move to US-style labour practices in the face of some left wing opposition.

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