Criticism on Fridays: Italian Workers’ Union Confronts Teatro La Fenice

FIALS Questions Legitimacy of Some Ambiguous Positions at Major Italian Theatres As New Law Fails to Help

By Polina Lyapustina
(Photo: Marco Montero)

Every Friday, Polina Lyapustina delivers a short essay on some of the most sensitive topics in the industry with the intent of establishing a dialogue about the opera world and its future.

Opera in Italy today is going through tough times, and not only because of the pandemic. Both smaller and larger institutions are being left to survive in circumstances where they still depend on the government but receive no direct support. 

Recently, the Ministery of Culture of Italy issued a new decree in full compliance with the law, which contains a scheme controlling the personnel relations and hiring for Operatic and Symphony Foundations (which all performing institutions in Italy are). 

This scheme explains how each type of National Collective Bargaining Agreement (in Italian — CCNL) regulates hiring methods and salaries for different categories of workers and management in a particular sector. And hopefully, it also helps to prevent the continued use of fixed short-term contracts initially created for the additional positions and the reckless hiring of employees without sufficient resources to pay them.

This legal update happens at the time when FIALS (Italian Labor Union for Autonomous Theatre Workers) is questioning the legitimacy of dubious hiring schemes and is asking the Ministery to check the economic sustainability of a contract at a major Italian Operatic Foundation — La Fenice Foundation.

Today, La Fenice is actively hiring and fearlessly building plans for the future seasons after launching a three-year alliance with Vda Group, a company from Veneto, operating in the field of home automation for the hospitality sector.

But one of the vacancies of La Fenice is quite unique for Italy. It attempts to classify an Administrative (HR) manager not according to the current CCNL for Operatic and Symphony Foundations, but according to the CCNL for Company Executives. 

Applying different CCNL allows hiring managers for an indefinite period and providing them with a salary up to four times higher than salaries counted according to CCNL for Operatic and Symphony Foundations.

The first possible reason which comes to my mind for such an attempt from La Fenice is corruption. But the Union is concerned more with different aspects and questions that arise from this circumstance. Enrico Sciarra, the general secretary of FIALS, thinks that even if fraud is possible, the fact that contractual positions are distorted in major houses in this day and age is way more dangerous.

In attempting to comprehend why absolutely any person in this position might be a threat for other workers and the industry in Italy, and why La Fenice tries to hire one, I was left with two major questions that needed answering: 

  1. What are the responsibilities of the Administrative Manager, which La Fenice wants to employ? 
  2. How do the obligations and responsibilities of the manager of the Operatic and Symphony Foundations differ from the Company manager?

According to the position description, the company hired this person to manage the organizational structure and adapt it to the current needs; rate the individual performance of the workers; plan and recruit the new staff in managing, technical, or performing sectors; create new formats of collaboration; work with the Unions and trade the work conditions; and supervise the payroll and award systems.

All of this sounds certainly relevant and requires a particular liability. It also looks like an absolutely sound description for the position. So logically, the problem lies in that difference imposed by another CCNL.

The CCNL for Executives is creating a position that has a greater impact on the work of the whole institution. First off, the position has an infinite contract (while other managers have only two or three years contracts) that is outside of the main structure and is accountable to few. This means that running the system in the way prescribed by the General manager might be enough to succeed in the position. And nothing in this type of contract leads to work for the benefit of other employees or the real development of the theater. Meanwhile, having the highest salary among the managers certainly makes this person more loyal, doesn’t it? 

So this one little change in the procedure of hiring allows La Fenice to create a distorted position. Which is just another valid part of the mechanism of wasting the funds in the already decaying state of Italian Opera. 

But what sounds most disturbing is that in this situation, neither the new law nor the ministry inspection can guarantee the problem is resolved or at the very least clarified.