Italian unions hail 80% participation in telco worker strike

People raised hand air fighting for protest

A national strike of Italy’s entire telecoms sector on Wednesday recorded participation levels of 80%, the country’s trade unions trumpeted, repeating their objections to structural separation in the industry.

Thousands of telecoms employees from all over the country amassed in Rome’s Piazza Santi Apostoli with the message ‘Riprendiamoci il futuro’ – ‘Let’s take back the future,’ that is – union SLC-CGIL revealed.

“If this sector regains its future, the whole country will do so at the same time,” the union quoted its national secretary Riccardo Saccone as saying as he addressed the crowds in the Italian capital.

“Once telecommunications were synonymous with modernity, however today the sector has been exploited by finance which has treated our companies like ATMs, that is, places to plunder,” Saccone said.

Strong words, but not at all unexpected, given how vocal the unions have been with regard to ongoing activities in the telecoms sector in recent months.

Top of the list for the unions are the structural separation plans being undertaken by incumbent TIM and rival Wind Tre.

As has been well documented, TIM is in the process of securing a buyer for its network assets, and has set Friday as its next deadline for the two bidders in the race – KKR and a consortium of CdP Equity and Macquarie Infrastructure and Real Assets (Europe) – to once again improve their offers. As an aside, it’s still wholly unclear what we can expect to happen tomorrow; TIM has said very little since it deemed both parties offers inadequate a month ago and indicated that at least one of the bidders is prepared to stump up more money, but there have been reports since that the CDP/Macquarie pairing has dropped out of the running.

Wind Tre, meanwhile, has confirmed plans to transfer its active network equipment and wholesale mobile and fixed communications services businesses to a new entity, with an enterprise value of €3.4 billion, in which its parent CK Hutchison will retain a 40% stake, while EQT Infrastructure will take 60%. The unions have already called Wind Tre staff out on strike, but this latest downing of tools covers the whole sector.

“Separating networks from services will lead our companies to become mere emporiums. And Italy to continue in a state of inequality from which it should have emerged with the pandemic,” Saccone said, referring to the fact that the lack of ultra broadband in Italy meant many people lost their jobs because they were unable to work remotely. “Our country can no longer afford this backwardness,” he declared.

While the union shared only the highlights from Saccone’s address, the Italian press present at the event published more of what the various speakers at the event said.

CGIL’s Pino Gesmundo focused in particular on “TIM’s worrying situation, with over €20 billion in debt,” CorCom reported. The union leader noted that the incumbent is “sailing towards the definitive relinquishment of the uniqueness of the company,” through its separation plan, it said.

The news outlet also quoted the general secretary of Uilcom, Salvo Ugliarolo, who summed up his own view of the situation.

“Ultimately, the companies are all making losses and all in one way or another show that they are also suffering because investments in this sector are onerous: from Vodafone which is announcing redundancies to WindTre which is selling part of the infrastructure to a Swedish fund. And then there is the problem of TIM, which has been dragging on for some time, with the desire to separate the infrastructure from the services with all the uncertainties about employment that this entails,”  Ugliarolo said.

It’s pretty clear that this situation in Italy will not be easily resolved, whatever happens when TIM’s networks bid deadline expires tomorrow.

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