In Italy, at the moment, discussions on the future of the world of work generally focus on remote working, but the gradual introduction of the short (four-day) week for equal pay is the hottest topic on the minds of employers.
Many companies in Italy are grappling with this new topic of interest. Banks, insurance companies, and the service sector in general are cautiously approaching it in different ways. Some companies have signed an agreement with unions, while other companies have implemented an internal policy on working time. In some cases, employees are allowed to work four days instead of five for equal pay. In other cases, companies have decided to reduce the weekly working time, or to allow two half-days, depending on employees' needs and on workload.
The transition, of course, is epochal. In a country like Italy, where the world of work is strongly unionized and where detailed regulation is left to collective bargaining, it is difficult to imagine a shift from five to four working days a week, without trade union involvement.
The unions are very actively trying to arrive at a four-day work week, even in the manufacturing sector where, naturally, the considerations versus in the services sector are quite different. While the service sector is characterized by a general freedom of action, in terms of working hours and location, the nature of the manufacturing sector is generally static: people often work in shifts and necessarily on the production line. Therefore, successful implementation of a reduced work week must relate to production rhythms and demand for final goods. The challenge will be whether production lines can be organized in such a way that workers will be able to work four days instead of five, compatible with occupational health and safety conditions.
As companies in Italy begin to introduce a four-day work week, there are several important technicalities that are causing this seemingly desirable proposition to take off less quickly than we might assume.
Management of Working Time
In Italy, normal working time is 40 hours per week—eight hours a day, for five working days. However, there are some collective agreements (such as the logistics agreement), which provide for a lower weekly working time of 39 hours.
An important question is whether the contraction from five to four working days will lead to a reduction in hours or not. It would, in fact, also be possible to spread the 40 hours of work over four days, with a working time of 10 hours per day, but we estimate that the unions will oppose this. Reasonably, the workers' unions will aim for a slight reduction in working hours, to support and sustain the principle behind the current process, i.e., an increase in productivity, albeit with a reduction in hours, due to increased work-life balance and satisfaction of workers.
In theory, even if the reduction of the weekly working time could be possible also by unilateral decision of the employer, who can offer to employees a different time table, we imagine that any contraction of the working week will be reasonably provided for by union agreement.
The intervention of the trade unions is recommended because it shields the employer from the mere granting of better treatment from within the Italian labor law landscape, from which it would then be difficult to extricate.
With a union agreement, on the other hand, the employer may provide not only an expiration date, by which the parties will meet again to assess the mutual desirability of continuing with the four-day schedule, but may also provide for corrective mechanisms, which allow for recalibration of the decision if it proves unsuitable. Again, the trade union agreement could provide for mechanisms to temporarily reinstate the five-day arrangement when this proves necessary for business reasons.
The union agreement would be essential to regulate the possible use of overtime, which could no longer be triggered after the eighth hour of work, but could become due for certain levels of employment (not managers) if working during the fifth day of the week.
Holidays and Leave
Another essential technical point will be the management of holidays and hours of permits, which must be related to the number of days of holidays and hours of leave provided for in the collective agreement, which can easily turn into better treatment for workers who decide to work four instead of five days.
Technically then, the four-day schedule could be imposed on everyone, or be left to the will of the individual, perhaps willing to work more hours per day, but only four days. This aspect has important repercussions on the organization of work in the individual department—the individual's choice would leave open the possibility that within the same office there might be employees who work only four days, on a higher daily schedule but a lower overall weekly schedule, and employees who instead work the standard 40 hours per week on five days.
Another aspect employers would have to reflect on is management of bonus or variable pay, as they would have to manage different situations, taking into account that some employees at the end of the year may have worked less than others.
The so-called short week is certainly an important topic, in terms of progress and the future of work in Italy, but it brings delicate technicalities. Such considerations explain why the short week is struggling to take off. However, given its appeal to the Italian working population, we anticipate it will continue to be an active part of Italian employers' discussions.
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