ITALY: Mirafiori back from the brink as vote goes Fiat's way

By Simon Warburton | 17 January 2011

Fiat has welcomed the decision by its Mirafiori workforce to accept its proposals for a new contract at the Italian plant, although the Fiom union is so far remaining silent on the issue.

Fiat has not released details of the referendum, but the FIM union notes the automaker has won the day by a 54%-46% majority that will now allow investment in a joint venture with Chrysler at the plant.

Acceptance of the deal should now pave the way for the construction of large SUVs for distribution under both the Jeep and Alfa Romeo brands worldwide, including in the US. Fiat estimates annual production levels of 280,000 vehicles per year with the possibility of new jobs being created.

Fiom has remained implacably opposed to the new deal although it has been urged to accept by other more moderate unions in Italy. Despite Fiom's silence today (15 January), the hardline union recently described the Mirafiori proposal as "outside the national metalworkers agreement as if it was a house built in a desert" and "an awful agreement." It has also called strike for 28 January but it is not clear if today's agreement will alter that.

Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne alluded to the difficult industrial relations at the plant in a statement issued today following the Mirafiori vote. "The majority of our workers have not allowed themselves to be conditioned by the many accusations and attacks of those that sought to gamble with their future," he said.

"By saying 'yes' to the agreement, they have closed the door on extremism, that creates nothing but chaos and they have opened the door to the future, to the privilege of transforming Mirafiori into a factory of excellence."

Despite Fiom's comments concerning the National Agreement, Marchionne insisted its conditions would remain, while the introduction of a Saturday evening shift would only occur should the need arise and with a resulting overtime payment.

"Full utilisation of the 18 shifts would also enable an increase in annual pay of around EUR3,500 (US$4,690) per year," added the Fiat chief.
"We have also taken account of other needs relating to overtime. As employees cannot always be available, we have instituted the option of substituting up to 20% of those workers who are unable to work overtime.

"By revising the system of breaks, reducing them to 30min and monetising the difference, we have also brought ourselves into line with standard practice at factories throughout the rest of Europe and the world."

Marchionne signed off his statement with a characteristic flourish, having previously hinted investment would move elsewhere unless agreement was secured at Mirafiori.

"The criticisms levelled at us have been unjust and often frustrating," he said.

"When you see your efforts being misrepresented, you sometimes ask yourself if it is really worth it. The majority of workers at Mirafiori have given the clear message that commitment to building something better is always worthwhile."