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Italy's revised labor laws may speed trapped tourists on their way

Angry and disconsolate tourists camp out on the quayside of the north Italian port of Genoa and of Civitavecchia just north of Rome awaiting the end of strikes which hold up the departures of ferries for Sardinia.

In Rome's Fiumicino airport desperate travelers await their baggage, which in turn awaits the end of a strike by baggage handlers.

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''The last time I came to Italy was 10 years ago. They were on strike then and I had to carry my own bags,'' an octogenarian passenger said recently.

''After a nine-hour flight I got my bags after waiting 31/2 hours,'' complained an Italo-American who still had a five-hour road journey to visit relatives in the south. ''Don't they ever work here?''

Every year Italian summer holidays risk being memorable for the wrong reasons. But earlier this month a serious attempt was made to rectify the situation.

An agreement signed by Minister of Transport Claudio Signorile and the three principal labor unions stipulated new disciplinary measures for would-be strikers. The three unions are governed by the Communist, Socialist, and Christian Democrat parties, respectively.

The unions agreed to avoid strikes in holiday periods - from Dec. 15 to Jan. 5, the week before and after Easter, two weeks around the mid-August holiday - and during national and European elections - and to call off strikes in the event of national disasters.

An initial strike can be called following a 10-day warning period and may last 24 hours. Subsequent strikes must last no longer than 48 hours. Since so many Italian strikes occur because companies, both private and state-owned, fail to renew workers' contracts at the stipulated time, the new agreement calls on both parties to begin discussions of new contract terms at least 30 days before the expiration date.

''This is the first step toward a new system of industrial relations,'' Mr. Signorile said optimistically after signing the agreement. So far, however, such optimism is only partially justified.

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Italy's many independent unions have yet to add their signatures to the new disciplinary code. These independent unions range from the Confederazione Italiana Sindacati Autonomi Lavoratori (CISAL) a confederation that governs some 63 smaller unions of transport and state workers (some 1.5 million workers), to the tiny but important flight technicians union. Industrial action by the latter 300-member union can completely block the Rome or Milan airport.

''We are certainly in agreement with some points of the code, but we would have preferred to be treated on an equal basis with the three big unions,'' says CISAL secretary-general (and founding member) Ubaldo Salvati. ''At this rate the independent unions will find themselves in the same position as (Solidarity union leader Lech) Walesa before martial law in Poland.''

Mr. Salvati accuses the new code of implicitly interfering with the right to strike of the specialized groups of workers who are largely represented more by the independent unions. He says the disciplinary code takes account only of requests made by or through the main labor unions.

Some ferry strikes were called off after the big independent unions, CISAL and the principal air transport workers union, said they were prepared to discuss and possibly sign the code today.

It remains to be seen whether the new agreement, which aims at making strikes a last resort rather than a habitual step in management-employee relations, will have a positive and lasting effect.

So far the depressing regularity of summer strikes has hit the islands of Sicily and Sardinia particularly hard. Many foreign tourists have struck these islands off their list. The effect is disastrous for local economies dependent on tourism.

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