Italy court blocks challenge to flagship Renzi reform

Italy's constitutional court on Wednesday rejected a petition calling for a referendum on a key plank of labour market legislation that was a flagship reform of ousted premier Matteo Renzi.

Italy court blocks challenge to flagship Renzi reform
Protests against the labour law before it was first adopted in 2014. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

The ruling, which had been keenly-awaited because of its broader political consequences, was a significant setback for the country's labour movement.

But it was greeted with relief by the ruling Democratic Party as it prepares for an election due by early next year, and was seen by observers as a boost to Renzi's hopes of a comeback.

The court rejected a trade union-sponsored petition calling for a vote to repeal the key provision of a law known as the Jobs Act, which made it easier for companies to hire and fire employees.

Made up of a package of reforms adopted in 2014-15, the Jobs Act was seen as the most significant measure adopted during Renzi's nearly three years in office.

The centre-left leader quit in December after suffering a crushing defeat in a referendum on unrelated constitutional reforms aimed at streamlining Italy's parliamentary system.

The court upheld the unions request for referendums on two other elements of Renzi's labour market reforms – a voucher system that enables small employers to pay workers and payroll taxes in one go, and new rules on public sector tenders.

But as reviews of both these elements are already under way, the votes may prove unnecessary and, even if they do go ahead, the stakes will be much lower.

Had the court accepted the petition for a referendum on the centrepiece of the Jobs Act, which was signed by 3.3 million people, the vote would have taken place between April and June.

Political observers had said that could have prompted the current centre-left government to go to the polls as early as March to avoid the risk of having to fight an election in the aftermath of another referendum setback.

Relief in ruling party

Wednesday's decision was widely seen as a gift to Renzi on what was his 42nd birthday.

The former mayor of Florence wants to lead the Democratic Party into the election but that would have been politically impossible if a reform he had championed had been rejected by voters.

Renzi and his allies say the Jobs Act has introduced long overdue flexibility into the Italian labour market.

They claim it is already fostering job creation and will, over time, attract investors currently put off by the high costs and bureaucracy involved in trimming labour forces.

Its critics say the act has diluted workers' rights with no sign of it generating new jobs.

Susanna Camusso, Secretary General of the CGIL union grouping which organized the petition, said her organization would consider a further challenge to the Jobs Act through the European Court of Justice, without specifying the basis for such a move.

“We remain convinced that the interests of the workers we represent are best served by them having security of employment,” Camusso said.

Lorenzo Guerini, a deputy leader of the Democratic Party, welcomed the court's decision “with respect and great satisfaction.”

He added: “This will allow us to pursue the reform of the labour market in a way that improves workers' conditions and makes them more efficient.”

Renzi was replaced in December as premier by close ally Paolo Gentiloni, who is not seen as a potential rival for the leadership of their party.

Gentiloni, 62, was recovering in hospital on Wednesday after undergoing emergency angioplasty surgery to repair a blocked artery.

By Angus MacKinnon

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Second Italian minister takes anti-mafia reporter Saviano to court

Just weeks after going on trial in a case brought by Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, Italian investigative journalist Roberto Saviano was back in court on Wednesday facing allegations of defamation lodged by Meloni's deputy, Matteo Salvini.

Second Italian minister takes anti-mafia reporter Saviano to court

Deputy Prime Minister Salvini, whose far-right League party is a key member of Meloni’s coalition, is suing the journalist for calling him the “minister of the criminal underworld” in a social media post in 2018.

In November, Saviano went on trial in a case brought by Meloni for calling her a “bastard” in 2020 over her attitude towards vulnerable migrants.

READ ALSO: Press freedom fears as Italian PM Meloni takes Saviano to trial

Meloni’s far-right Brothers of Italy party was in opposition at the time, but won September elections on a promise to curb mass migration.

Saviano, known for his international mafia bestseller “Gomorrah”, regularly clashes with Italy’s far-right and says the trials are an attempt to intimidate him.

He faces up to three years in prison if convicted in either trial.

“I think it is the only case in Western democracies where the executive asks the judiciary to lay down the boundaries within which it is possible to criticise it,” Saviano said in a declaration in court on Wednesday.

He said he was “blatantly the victim of intimidation by lawsuit”, on trial “for making my opinion, my thoughts, public”.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about press freedom in Italy

Press freedom watchdogs and supporters of Saviano have called for the suits to be scrapped. Meloni refused in November, despite criticism that her position of power makes it an unfair trial.

Armed guard

Saviano has lived under police protection since revealing the secrets of the Naples mafia in 2006.

But when Salvini was appointed interior minister in a previous government in June 2018, he suggested he might scrap Saviano’s armed guard.

The writer reacted on Facebook, saying Salvini “can be defined ‘the minister of the criminal underworld’,” an expression he said was coined by anti-fascist politician Gaetano Salvemini to describe a political system which exploited voters in Italy’s poorer South.

READ ALSO: Anti-mafia author Saviano won’t be ‘intimidated’ by Salvini

He accused Salvini of having profited from votes in Calabria to get elected senator, while failing to denounce the region’s powerful ‘Ndrangheta mafia and focusing instead on seasonal migrants.

Salvini’s team are expected to reject any claim he is soft on the mafia.

Saviano’s lawyer said he will call as a witness the current interior minister Matteo Piantedosi, who at the time was in charge of evaluating the journalist’s police protection.

The next hearing was set for June 1st.

Watchdogs have warned of the widespread use in Italy of SLAPPS, lawsuits aimed at silencing journalists or whistleblowers.

Defamation through the media can be punished in Italy with prison sentences from six months to three years, but the country’s highest court has urged lawmakers to rewrite the law, saying jail time for such cases was unconstitutional.

Saviano is also being sued by Culture Minister Gennaro Sangiuliano in a civil defamation case brought in 2020, before Sangiuliano joined the cabinet.

A ruling in that case could come in the autumn. If he loses that case Saviano may have to pay up to 50,000 euros in compensation, his lawyer told AFP.

Italy ranked 58th in the 2022 world press freedom index published by Reporters Without Borders, one of the lowest positions in western Europe.