An unprecedented campaign launched in July by the minister of public administration and innovation, Renato Brunetta, to increase the productivity of civil servants and reduce record-high absenteeism, has already seen the signs of success. Ministry statistics recently showed a 37 percent drop in public sector absenteeism in July 2008, and Brunetta claims this figure will increase to 50 percent within the next year.
For years, the threat of being dismissed from a civil service position in Italy has been virtually inexistent. Restrictive labour laws meant that those with civil servant jobs could expect to keep them for life. However, the new labour rules, officially passed in early August, have put an end to this practice.
The new measure attempts to reduce notoriously high levels of absenteeism and loosen state firing policies: inspectors will now make surprise house calls on absent workers to make sure they are truly ill, there will be cuts to the pay bonuses of workers who call in sick too often, and state employees must now present medical certificates from ministry-approved doctors only.
Brunetta, a 58-year-old former professor of labour economics, claims that within three years these reforms aimed at bettering state sector productivity will, in fact, help boast the national economy.
By early next year, the public administration minister vows to launch merit-based rewards as well as introduce a law allowing for class action suits against the public service sector.
Although they are eliciting strong protests from labour unions, Brunetta's reforms have met with widespread approval from dissatisfied citizens: ‘We can no longer allow ourselves the luxury of a public administration that doesn't work. I have clearly caught the popular mood; 60 million Italians are behind me', Brunetta told Reuters in an interview.
Thousands of disgruntled civil servants have since banded together to form the Committee of Civil Slackers and are collecting signatures throughout Italy in protest of the new labour reforms.
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