Rome - The Ministry of Economic Development (MISE) has brought to a successful conclusion over 196 business crisis mediation efforts in the five-year period since 2012. The figure represents close to 60 percent of the Ministry’s overall mediation efforts, and thousands of jobs have been preserved or reinstated. The numbers were provided by Italy’s Vice-Minister for Economic Development, Teresa Bellanova, in an interview to Italy’s AGI news service, in which she outlined the ministry’s efforts to ‘rescue’ Italian companies in difficulty. Among the best known cases of companies that have managed to bounce back are Electrolux, AST, Whirlpool, Meridiana, Bridgestone, and Industria Italiana Autobus, to name a few. This year negotiations with a positive outcome reached almost 65 percent. Currently, there are around 160 separate crisis talks in progress. There’s still an arduous road ahead. The two thorniest cases are, without a doubt, the crises of steel producer Ilva and airline Alitalia. “We’re talking here of over 25,000 employees, taken as a whole”, emphasized the Vice-Minister. However, she’s also quick to point out the success of policies put in place over recent years: from plans to bring innovation to large and small businesses, to focusing on training that “must increasingly match the needs of the productive system”, in a market where social safety nets can no longer be seen as a “blank cheque”, and where the cost of labour should not be lowered.
How have crisis mediations changed since the beginning of this legislature? “I start from a fundamental premise,” said Bellanova. “We at the MISE do not abandon companies in difficulty until the root problem is resolved. We also monitor them after positive agreements have been reached, and this is an extraordinarily important tool. Currently we’re handling about 160 crisis mediation cases which, of course, are not all the same. Some have been ongoing since 2012, others have been resolved to everyone’s satisfaction, others have opened up. This year, those that have had a positive resolution is close to 65 percent. This is why I consider those instances extraordinarily revealing of not just the individual difficulties, but of the economic system as a whole, and of the degree of responsiveness of Italian companies, for better or for worse, in the face of the enormous challenges that have characterized the globalization of markets over the past 20 years.” Which means? “The course of action in the past was one in which the economic system would face the challenge of an international market by substantially leveraging competitive devaluation. Faced with what is termed globalization, a significant share of the economy thought that it could substitute it with labour costs and social safety nets, often seen as a blank cheque. I don’t mean to point the finger at anyone in particular, I’m just stating that an effective industrial policy must also be able to challenge the entire economic and institutional apparatus, with its weaknesses and engrained laziness. This paradigm shift represents a huge step forward, which I attribute to the policies implemented over recent years. Bringing, for instance, innovation to both large and small and very small businesses, or strongly affirming the extraordinary role that training plays as a lever for change and competition - and not just for the workers but also for the entrepreneurs and managers. Often laziness and ideology get in the way of the most desirable solution.” What are currently the most serious corporate crises? “Certainly Ilva, and, again, the Piombino facility, since the entrepreneur has shown extreme inadequacy and unreliability in implementing the industrial plan. Then, Ericsson, Alitalia, and Ideal Standard. With Ilva and Alitalia together, we’re talking about over 25,000 employees.”
Which are the most important among the cases resolved? And how many jobs were saved? “Considering the last five years, from 2012 to today,” Bellanova continued, “we recorded 196 cases with a positive outcome, equal to about 60 percent of those completed. It’s a significant percentage that includes some of the most important companies of recent times: Electrolux, AST, Whirlpool, Meridiana, Bridgestone, Industria Italiana Autobus, to name but a few. In other words, thousands of jobs were safeguarded or recovered. There have been many successful cases. Not all get the same media attention, but all are important, nonetheless. We handled some cases that appeared “impossible”, but we persevered until we found an acceptable or satisfactory solution.” What is the level of relations between the government and trade unions in such cases of crisis management? “One of recognition and respect. The set of difficulties arise from the complexity of the cases, and the tensions that need to be managed. With enormous satisfaction, and a pinch of pride, I can say that I mostly witness a significant level of collaboration. The unions appreciate not having to exert pressure or take to the streets to get mediation talks underway. And moreover we’ve delivered results through mediation in instances where a particular company and its trade unions were not even on speaking terms.”