30 March 2012 at 14:50 BST

Technocrat Monti tackles trade unions

When he took the reins from Silvio Berlusconi as Italy's prime minister, Mario Monti was hailed as the technocrat wizard who would achieve what no elected politician has managed for decades - to get a grip on the country's finances.

But now, according to commentators in Rome, just three and a half months after taking office, the 69-year-old former EC competition commissioner faces a test that could break him – a titanic tussle with trade unions over attempted reform of the country’s arcane employment laws.

Sacking restrictions

The Economist newspaper reports that the PM has been wrestling with Italy’s union bosses over his proposal to jettison existing legislation that prevents businesses of more than 15 workers from sacking employees for economic reasons ‘without risking legal proceedings that can last years’.

The newspaper points out that currently what might be considered a normal economic redundancy in other EU and Western countries could be viewed by the Italian judiciary as unfair, resulting ultimately in workers being reinstated with back wages paid.

Too comfortable

Prime Minister Monti suggests those provisions are weighted too favourably towards the employees and that the red tape is strangling Italy’s competitiveness – resulting in one in three young Italians being jobless. His proposed employment law reform would see sacked workers still eligible for a generous 27 months’ pay, but not entitled to have their redundant jobs handed back.

The Economist points out that past negotiations between Italian governments and the country’s unions have resulted in ‘a document so content-free that all sides accept it. This time, when it became clear that unanimity was impossible, Mr Monti declared the talks over and said his government would press ahead regardless.’

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