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Italian tile factories are ready to get back to work

April 2020

The Italian ceramic manufacturers are working on several fronts to enable their factories to be reopened before 3rd  May, the date established in the last Prime Ministerial Decree of 10th April which for the time being has only allowed for the continuation of essential activities, maintenance, and shipping and reception of goods.

Amid ongoing discussions with the Italian government and the Emilia-Romagna regional administration, before Easter the heads of Confindustria Ceramica and the trade unions Filctem-Cgil, Femca-Cisl and Uiltec-Uil had already signed a National Protocol for the prevention of contagion risks to be adopted in factories as soon as the government allows them to reopen.  Measures envisaged to ensure maximum safety include the planning of shifts to stagger workers’ entry and exit times, periodic sanitisation of workspaces, restricted access to common areas, the provision of protective equipment (gloves, helmets, masks), online meetings, health insurance and the possibility of carrying out serological tests. The ceramic companies are ready to restart their kilns, as indeed they were on 14th April when everyone was hoping that the lockdown measures would end or at least be relaxed.

All of this is demonstrated by the ease with which the agreement was reached with the trade unions, notes Confindustria Ceramica’s Chairman Giovanni Savorani, not least considering the nature of modern ceramic tile factories: huge spaces housing highly automated plants that increasingly comply with Industry 4.0 criteria following investments of over Euro 2 billion over the last 4 to 5 years, and where small numbers of specialised technicians work on entire lines.

Moreover, as early as March the Italian ceramic industry had already adopted all the measures required to guarantee the safety and health of workers, with office staff working from home and more effective procedures in place to protect warehouse workers and transporters during goods loading operations. The new Protocol significantly enhances these measures.

Confindustria Ceramica believes there is no time left to wait, as Giovanni Savorani explained in a letter sent to the Minister for Productive Activities, Stefano Patuanelli. And it is not just because of the 14,000 employees on furlough or the fact that the production stoppage of one and a half months since 22nd March is already equivalent to a billion euros of lost production.

The biggest concern for the ceramic tile industry- which exports 85% of its output - is the risk of losing market share to foreign competitors who have not suffered the same restrictions, from Spanish companies who were allowed to restart their kilns on Friday 10 April after only 11 days of shutdown (but who were able to continue to ship products throughout almost the entire period), to Turkish and Polish firms and many others elsewhere in Europe and the rest of the world.

“It is vitally important to re-establish a level playing field in the shortest possible time,” writes Savorani, noting that regaining lost market share will be an even more difficult and costly task given that the overall demand for ceramic tiles in world markets has already been reduced by about a third due to the pandemic.

Reporting: Ceramic World Review

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