Outrage after top Italy boss says unions protect 'thieves'

AFP , Wednesday 22 Feb 2012

Statement by Italian employers' association chief that trade unions protect 'thieves' and 'the work-shy' prompts backlash

The head of Italy's employers' association has sparked a nationwide row by accusing trade unions of protecting "thieves" and "the work-shy" as negotiations proceed on reforming the labour market.

Speaking at a conference in Florence on Tuesday, Emma Marcegaglia said unions should not longer protect those who "chronically shirk work, thieves and those who don't do their jobs".

The comments triggered outrage among unions and some politicians.

"My union has never defended those who thieve or the work-shy. It's an unacceptable generalisation," Raffaele Bonanni, head of the moderate Cisl trade union, said Wednesday.

"It's as if businessmen were accused of being linked to the mafia," he added.

Susanna Camusso, who heads the left-wing CGIL, the country's main trade union, termed the comments "offensive", while even Gianfranco Rotondi, leader of former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi's PDL conservative party, judged them "stupid".

The comments come amid negotiations on reforming the labour market as Italy struggles with high unemployment.

Prime Minister Mario Monti's government last month kicked off negotiations to liberalise Italy's labour market.

On Monday, he said he was confident employers and unions could reach agreement on reforms by late March but that should talks fail the government would nevertheless go ahead and submit legislation to parliament.

The most recent figures show Italy's monthly unemployment rate has reached 8.9 per cent and almost a third -- 31 per cent -- of young people aged between 15 and 24, who are not in school or higher education, are jobless.

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