Italian trade unions’ response to COVID-19

21 April 2020 04:25

Italian trade unions had to negotiate with employers and government to put in place measures, without any precedents, to address the social and economic problems of the lockdown while the COVID-19 crisis spread rapidly in Italy, which was unprepared for the outbreak and completely overwhelmed its health system. 

No one doubted the need for a strict lockdown in Italy, restricting movement and limiting work to the provision of essential goods and services. As such, unions in Italy had to respond quickly to protect workers. While Italy went from just over 1,000 Covid-19 cases and 29 deaths at the end of February 2020 to over 105,000 cases and 12,428 deaths by the end of March 2020, BWI’s three Italian affiliates and their federations; FENEAL-UIL, FILCA-CISL, and FILLEA-CGIL were working hard to activate initiatives with central and local government businesses and to reach agreement with employer associations in several sectors including construction.  


After persistent demands, the national government approved massive financing interventions to strengthen the public health system and activate social safety nets for workers and small businesses that are unable to work because of the lockdown. Engagement with government resulted in National Protocols with guidelines for the protection of health and safety in the workplace, which includes, among other things, union engagement at company level on safety protocols.

While the rate of spread is slowing down in Italy, there have been more than 24,000 deaths and there are currently more than 108,000 active cases as of 20 April 2020. The lockdown continues for most Italian citizens, but media reports indicate that some major infrastructure construction sites have reopened. 

With COVID-19 dramatically changing people’s lives, the Italian unions said that it is time to seriously reflect on the nature and effectiveness of the current development model. The country’s social and health care systems should be reformed and spending increased, not only to address the health crisis, but also to make it more sustainable. With austerity policies, public health financing had undergone major cuts in recent years. The unions also said that migrant, domestic and seasonal workers should also have access to Italy’s social and healthcare systems.