• Based on Article 39 of the Italian Constitution on the freedom of trade union association and the right to collective bargaining, the industrial relations system in Italy is characterised by the presence of three main trade union confederations, a number of smaller confederations and autonomous unions.
  • There are three main trade union confederations, which are affiliated to the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC-CSI):

– the General Confederation of Italian Workers (Confederazione Generale Italiana del Lavoro, CGIL), established in 1906, is the oldest Italian trade union organisation which also has the highest number of members . Historically close to the left-wing and communist party.

– the Italian Confederation of Workers’ Trade Unions (Confederazione Italiana Sindacati Lavoratori, CISL) was established in 1948 as a secular and non-confessional union, in close relationship to Catholic Christian values.

– the Union of Italian Workers (Unione Italiana del Lavoro, UIL), established in 1950, was close to the socialist and Republican political positions.

  • Trade unions in Italy are organised on an industry basis with national branch federations (with the exception of UIL for the public sector and workers employed in non-standard jobs).
  • The pluralism of Italian trade unions is characterised also by the presence of smaller confederations and independent autonomous unions, that represent mainly the workers in the transport and public services sectors. The General Union of Workers (Unione General del Lavoro, UGL), the Italian Confederation of Autonomous Workers’ Unions (Confederazione Italiana Sindacati Autonomi Lavoratori, Cisal) are two representative examples.
  • According to the latest OECD data[1] available, union density of active employees in Italy reached 37.3% in 2013, which is an increase compared to the previous years. With reference to the data reported by the three main Italian trade union confederations for 2015, trade union membership of members in active employment is estimated as follows:

                – CGIL has 2,600,516 members in active employment[2];

                – CISL has 2,348,322 members in active employment[3];

                – UIL has 1,346,898 members in active employment[4];

In addition to the members in active employment, an important quota of membership is represented by retired workers, who are no longer in active employment. Unlike other EU Member States, Italian trade unions have special federations for retired members. The following data were reported for 2015: CGIL 2,938,956 members, CISL 4,298,710 members and UIL 577,667 members. 

  • The main employer organisation is the General Confederation of Italian Industry (Confederazione Generale dell'Industria Italiana, Confindustria) established in 1910 and representing manufacturing and service companies. It covers more than 150,000 companies of different sizes, with a total number of 5,434,352 employees[5]. It negotiates with trade unions on behalf of private employers and is the national employers’ representative in the industrial relations system. Due to the relatively large number of small and medium enterprises in Italy, there are specific employers’ organisations representing SMEs such as the Italian Confederation of Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (Confederazione Italiana della Piccola e Media Industria, Confapi). Among the other employers’ organisations Confartigianato and the National Confederation of Crafts and Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (Confederazione Nazionale dell’Artigianato e della Piccola e Media Impresa, CNA) represent artisans and have a different political orientation.
  • With reference to collective agreements coverage, it is estimated that national collective agreements (Contratto Collettivo Nazionale di Lavoro, CCNL) are applied to 99,4% of companies[6], based on over 700 existing agreements[7]. Despite the lack of erga omnes extension for collective agreements at legislative level, the extensive coverage is ensured by a de facto application that includes also those workers who are not formally represented by the signatory organisations. The coverage percentage of the so-called “second-level” collective bargaining at company or territorial level varies according to the size of the companies. In companies with at least 500 employees, the coverage is around 69,1%, while it is estimated around 17,5% in companies with less than 49 employees[8].
  • Collective bargaining takes place at two levels. The two-tier bargaining structure is based on industry-wide agreements and decentralised agreements are negotiated at company and territorial level. Over the years, trade unions have strengthened the role played by second-level bargaining in order to improve flexibility by adapting to the local level and to increase salaries based on productivity and profitability. The importance of decentralised and territorial bargaining over sectoral bargaining has been strengthened, especially with regard to large companies.
  • Decentralized bargaining at company level includes the introduction of “opening clauses” aimed at negotiating conditions to improve industry-wide minimum standards.
  • The mechanism for setting pay is based on national collective agreements (Contratto Collettivo Nazionale di Lavoro, CCNL) that refer to minimum wage standards at sectoral level. Although there is no erga omnes extension of national collective agreements, at case-law level judges refer to the articles of the collective agreements when ruling over the mechanism for setting pay.  The case law practice assumes the contractual minimum wage from national collective agreements as the reference for identifying a “fair and proportional pay”.
  • On 10 January 2014 CGIL, CISL, UIL and the employers’ association Confindustria signed an inter-confederation agreement on representativeness (Testo Unico sulla rappresentanza)[9]. It addresses four main items: extent and recognition of representation for the purpose of national collective bargaining at sectoral level; rules of representativeness in the company; entitlement and effectiveness of collective bargaining at sectoral and company level; provisions in case of non-compliance.
  • On 14 January 2016 the three main Italian confederations CGIL,CISL and UIL, signed an inter-confederation agreement titled “A modern system of industrial relations for an economic development based on innovation and quality of work”[10]. The agreement focused on the three main pillars for strengthening a new system of industrial relations consisting of collective bargaining, participation and the set of new rules on representation. CGIL,CISL and UIL stressed the importance of a more inclusive model of collective bargaining structured at national level and second-level. Among the topics covered by collective bargaining, the agreement stresses the importance of active policies to enhance training and life-long learning for workers, flexibility of employment relations, management of company crisis, sub-contracting, bilateralism, bargained welfare plans and wage policies. The second pillar refers to employee participation covering company governance, company organisation and economic and financial participation. The third pillar refers to the norms on representation established by the “Testo Unico” signed jointly with Confindustria in 2014.
  • Employee representative bodies were first regulated by the Workers’ Statute in 1970 with the establishment of a trade union representative structure at company level (Rappresentanze Sindacale Aziendale, RSA), representing the workers being a member of a specific trade union within a company. RSAs are trade union representative bodies without collective bargaining power, but they have the right to hold mass meetings, to be informed and to call for ballots.
  • Starting from the ‘90s, the inter-confederal agreement of 23 July 1993 between trade unions and Confindustria introduced a single channel of representation. The Unitary Workplace Union Structure (Rappresentanze Sindacali Unitarie, RSU) represents all the workers regardless of their trade union membership. It has the right to bargain collectively at company level on items delegated from the industry-wide level, and it has the right to be informed and consulted. The members of the RSU are currently elected by the whole workforce. It can be established in workplaces with more than 15 employees.
  • The Workers’ Health and Safety Representatives (Rappresentante dei Lavoratori per la Sicurezza, RLS) are workers elected as employees’ representatives, entitled to consultation, and are in charge of prevention, risk assessment, training and work organisation on health and safety at the workplace. In companies with 15 employees or more RLSs are elected by workers. In companies with less than 15 employees, based on territorial agreements, trade unions appoint the Territorial Workers’ Health and Safety Representative (Rappresentante Territoriale dei Lavoratori per la Sicurezza, RLST) who is responsible for several local companies. This type of representation is typical especially in the building and artisan sectors. The costs are covered by the employer.
  • There is no specific legislation on representation at board level. The matter is regulated by company law and the main experiences are limited to the banking sector and municipal companies.

[1] OECD and J. Visser, ICTWSS database, Trade Union density,


[2] Data on CGIL membership for 2015 http://www.cgil.it/i-tesserati-2014/

[3] Data on CISL membership for 2015 http://www.cisl.it/images/Tesseramento/iscritti_federazioni_2015.pdf

[4] Data on UIL membership for 2015 http://www.uil.it/tesseramento_cat.asp

[5] General Confederation of Italian Industry website


[6] Fondazione Di Vittorio, Synthesis on collective bargaining, 2016


[7] CISL Observatory on labour market, July 2015


[8] Fondazione Di Vittorio, Synthesis on collective bargaining, 2016


[9]CGIL-CISL-UIL, Inter-confederation Agreement on representativeness, 10 Janury 2014 (“Testo Unico sulla Rappresentanza”)


[10] CGIL-CISL-UIL,  Inter-confederation Agreement “A modern system of industrial relations, for an economic development based on innovation and quality of work”, 14 January 2016 (Un moderno sistema di relazioni industriali. Per uno sviluppo economico fondato sull’innovazione e la qualità del lavoro)


(last update: October 2016)