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What are the upcoming strikes in Italy and how could they impact you?

As strikes continue to affect flights, rail and public transport services in Italy, we take a look at how upcoming protests may impact travel plans.

Woman in front of departure board at Fiumicino airport in Rome
Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP

Transport strikes are hardly unusual in Italy and, to some extent, the nature of the country’s union landscape itself contributes to their frequency. 

But strike action has been exceedingly intense over the past few months, with airline, train and public transport passengers facing disruption from nationwide demonstrations on multiple occasions.

As things stand, the trend looks set to continue in the coming weeks as two more major nationwide demonstrations loom on the horizon: a general public transport strike on Friday, May 26th and a 24-hour airport staff strike on June 4th, which was postponed from May 19th. 

Here’s a look at what you can expect from the upcoming walkouts and how they might affect your travel plans. 

May 26th: Public transport staff around the country will take part in a 24-hour walkout on Friday, May 26th.

The strike was called earlier this month by USB (Unione Sindacati di Base) – one of Italy’s main trade unions – in protest against precarious work contracts and low wages.

The walkout will affect all forms of public transport – from surface services (buses, trolleybuses and trams) to metro lines and ferries – as well as taxi services. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Why are there so many transport strikes in Italy?

Rail services are also set to be impacted, though, as currently indicated by Italy’s Transport Ministry, the walkout should only last eight hours – from 9am to 5pm – in their case. 

Crowded bus station in Italy

All public transport services, from buses to metro lines to ferries, are expected to be affected by delays or cancellations on Friday, May 26th. Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP

Airline and airport staff will not take part in the demonstration. 

Though no details are currently available about exactly how much disruption people will face on the day, significant delays or cancellations to all involved services are expected during the strike. 

The impact is also expected to vary by region and city. Strike action has so far been confirmed by public transport staff in many northern cities including Turin, Milan and Bologna, as well as those at regional transport operators around the country.

By law however, all public transport operators in Italy are required to provide ‘minimum services’ (servizi essenziali or minimi in Italian) during strike actions to allow commuters to make the journey to and from their destination.

READ ALSO: Should you travel in Italy when there’s a strike on?

Minimum services are generally guaranteed to operate during two separate time windows, one in the morning (usually between 7am and 10am) and the other one in the evening (between 6pm and 9pm). 

As such, if you’re planning on travelling on May 26th, you’re strongly advised to check out the planned minimum services of the relevant transport companies.

June 4th: Airport handling staff from all around the country will take part in a 24-hour walkout on Sunday, June 4th.

The demonstration was originally scheduled for Friday, May 19th but was rescheduled to the current date after devastating floods ravaged the northern Emilia Romagna region on May 17th.

Since at least four of Italy’s largest transport workers’ unions will take part in the strike, the protest is expected to cause some level of disruption at all of Italy’s major airports, especially at check-in desks and in baggage collection areas.

Empty check-in desks during a strike

Airport staff from all around the country and cabin crews from several major airlines will strike on Sunday, June 4th. Photo by Andre PAIN / AFP

In a separate demonstration, staff from several airlines are set to hold protests on this date.

READ ALSO: Calendar: The transport strikes to expect in Italy this spring

Staff at Spanish airlines Volotea and Vueling, and Air Dolomiti – a subsidiary of Lufthansa operating routes from Germany to 13 different Italian destinations – are expected to take part in a 24-hour nationwide strike.

Meanwhile, ground staff from American Airlines and Emirates are expected to strike for four hours, between 12pm and 4pm.

Flights run by any of these airlines may experience delays or cancellations on the day, though no details have been given yet.

Under Italian law, flights scheduled to leave between 7am and 10am and between 6pm and 9pm are protected from strike action. 

A full list of guaranteed flights is generally released by Italy’s Civil Aviation Authority (ENAC) on this web page in the days prior to the strike.

Passengers travelling on Sunday, June 4th are strongly advised to check the status of their flight with their airline prior to their journey.

There currently aren’t any national transport strikes scheduled beyond June 4th, though a number of minor local walkouts are scheduled to take place in the following days and weeks. 

You can keep up to date with the latest strike news from Italy HERE.

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OPINION: Italy’s constant strikes are part of the country’s DNA

The Italian news is full of reports of strikes - again. Silvia Marchetti explains why striking is part of Italy's social fabric, and why it's always the same old story.

OPINION: Italy's constant strikes are part of the country's DNA

Each time there’s a major strike the whole of Italy, especially big cities like Rome and Milan, descends into chaos. 

Be it a transport or rubbish disposal strike or public sector employees simply ‘crossing their arms’ as Italians would say (‘incrociare le braccia’) to skip work, it’s usually disruptive – and particularly for foreigners and tourists who might not be as accustomed to such frequent strikes.

Constant strikes are part of Italy’s DNA, and it’s also a dysfunction that plagues this country. I’ve lived in four other European countries and have never experienced the amount of monthly strikes we have in Italy.

READ MORE: Keep up to date with all the latest strike news in Italy

The evening news is flooded with reports of the ‘disagi’ (disruption) caused by strikes but it’s always the same drill. 

Italians get seemingly mad, saying how it has made their day a nightmare between bringing the kids to school and getting to work late, or complaining about a cancelled flight or train ride that would have brought them for the weekend to Bologna. But then everything falls back into the same routine.

It’s like playing a broken record.

Strikes in Italy are a cultural and political issue. Italians may get annoyed because it affects them but they are also by now used to them. It’s part of their inbred fatalism. 

My gran would say ‘ci hanno fatto il callo’ (meaning ‘they’ve formed a callus’, as if to say that bearing the burden of so many strikes has made them passive).

Italians who participate in strikes tend to be specific types of workers that have fixed job contracts protected by trade unions, such as pilots, bus drivers and factory workers. We have also created a word for that: ‘sindacalizzato’, to refer to a privileged worker who belongs to a trade union.

READ ALSO: Should you travel in Italy when there’s a strike on?

In Italy trade unions have enormous powers, more so than in other European countries. I am aware that trade unions are the end result of centuries of fights for workers rights’ and democracy, however in Italy things are extreme: they can push through a specific job category contract, a salary raise, establish how many holidays a worker should have in a year, and even sometimes decide which specific people should be hired.

I have several friends who teach at Italian high schools and they become enraged whenever  a colleague with fewer years of teaching experience gets a promotion or a fixed position (‘cattedra’) not based on merit or years worked, but just because he or she has been a member of the teachers’ union since the start of their career.

It’s a bit like being a member of a political party, if you’re not ‘tesserato’ (don’t have the trade union membership), your chances of landing a dream job in a specific sector are slim.

It is amazing how trade unions are often more powerful than trade lobbies and employers themselves. This power is clear each time Fiat car workers ‘fold their arms’ for a pay raise, or steel plants that are central to the country’s economic growth shut down in protest.

So where does this power come from? Many laws approved by the government are made in agreement with trade unions and business lobbies, it’s the so-called ‘concertazione con le parti sociali’ (consultation with working groups), which is a mechanism that has ruled in Italy ever since the birth of the republic. 

READ ALSO: What are the upcoming strikes in Italy?

Government ministers regularly hold meetings with trade union representatives and employers to discuss key measures including those concerning fiscal policy and taxation.

So it comes as no surprise that strikes are the weapon of choice for Italy’s trade unions. 

What does get Italians mad, more than the strike disruption itself, is the fact that strikes have always been a powerful tool used to persuade politicians and force employers to pay higher salaries, while ordinary people see their daily life being used as a political pawn. 

When planes are grounded because cabin crew are on strike it’s the usual background noise, albeit irritating. What really annoys some people is that these workers are so protected by their trade unions that they can afford to skip work in protest.

People who are self-employed, professionals, VAT-holders, teleworkers and freelancers can’t afford to strike because they are not represented by any political group or trade union that could organise a potential strike. They would just be striking against themselves, given they’re self-employed.

Foreign visitors get very worried when they hear about a transport strike in Italy, and I’ve personally met a family who embarked on a 72-hour trip one sultry summer day before they made the Rome-Florence train ride. 

It’s hard to reassure tourists that the next one won’t be as disruptive, but then again when it comes to Italy it’s really all very unpredictable.

These strikes in my view are barely effective in the short term, but in the long run, especially if continuous, they become ‘threats’ and increase the unions’ leverage power, so they eventually do bear fruit in the form of a slight pay raise. 

Trade unions here are still strong, just old-fashioned and slow to kick-start change – as are so many things in Italy.