Edited by Giacinto Favalli
Trade Union Law: an increasingly essential branch of labour law in the dynamics of corporate life. Collective bargaining over time has expanded far beyond the mere organisation of strikes and unrest, and in recent years has come to play a leading role in relations between companies and workers. For this reason, collaboration with lawyers specialised in trade union law will be increasingly crucial in facing the many labour challenges that the future holds.
Trade Union Law: what is it? (Brief) history and evolution
Trade union law is, in a nutshell, the set of rules that regulate the trade union structure and its functioning, as well as the relationships between trade unions, companies and workers. The history of this branch of law certainly goes back a long way. However, a fundamental moment in the development of the legislation on the subject was the entry into force of the Workers’ Statute, Law No. 300/1970: it, on the one hand, outlined the prerogatives of trade unions and the ways in which trade union activity can be carried out in companies, and, on the other (with the procedural provision contained in Article 28), attributed to the judge the possibility of stopping and removing the effects of any anti-union behaviour.
With the entry into force of the aforementioned legislation, trade union law has been able to avail itself of instruments of protection that have made it increasingly effective. This has resulted in a reduction, at least in part, of the trade union’s recourse to the mere exercise of traditional self-defence actions, such as strikes, unrest, etc. in order to protect itself.
The role of trade unions in procedures and labour relations
Over the years, trade union law has also developed further due to the function attributed by law to trade unions within particularly relevant procedures such as redundancy, company transfers and collective dismissals, or within the management of particular forms of contract, such as fixed-term and part-time contracts.
Trade union law has been enriched with rules aimed at broadening the functions of trade unions, while at the same time encouraging greater production, at various levels, of collective bargaining. For its part, jurisprudence has always been sensitive to the issue of protecting trade union freedoms and activities in their various aspects, thus contributing to strengthening the relevance of trade union law.
Many examples could be cited in the latter regard. Two above all: on the one hand, the contribution that case law, including constitutional case law, has made to the identification of trade unions as holders of the right to set up representative bodies within companies; on the other hand, the enhancement of collective bargaining as a reference parameter for the realisation, in concrete cases, of the right referred to in Article 36 of the Constitution: ‘The worker has the right to remuneration commensurate with the quantity and quality of his work and in any case sufficient to ensure a free and dignified existence for himself and his family’.
The future of trade union law
In recent years, trade union activity seems to have slowed down, which can also be explained by the Covid pandemic. However, even during this, trade union law has played its own role through collective bargaining aimed at identifying measures to protect workers and while balancing them with production requirements. Looking ahead, this branch of law is destined to play an important role in future challenges, which are already beginning to emerge. Let us think, for example, of the role it may play in defining the rules to be applied to new ways of carrying out work linked to technological advances.
Lastly, a clarification: when we speak of trade union law, we are not referring to something that is placed exclusively in the hands of the trade unions. It is in fact constituted, to a significant extent by collective bargaining, in the elaboration of which the business world also participates. It is therefore important that, in order to meet the challenges of the future, companies engage in a fruitful synergy with trade unions. This is to contribute to the creation of trade union law that, in the general interest, can meet the needs of labour in an increasingly competitive and challenging world.