A Deafening Silence - Giorgio Donadoni and Alberto Dal Poz Interview on Bergamo Economia March Issue
An emptied out Bergamo with its desolated factories, a trying time that we will overcome together.
A far from simple future is foreseen for the Italian Small and Medium Enterprises. The COVID-19 emergency and the consequent total or almost complete lock-out is grafted on an already difficult situation that has been dragging on for some time, also due to complications such as the Italian red tape and the typical disjunction between the establishment and the productive and associational world. The uncertainty about when and how this will end is endemic.
Two key figures, Alberto Dal Poz, Chairman of Federmeccanica (the Federation of Metalworking Industries), and Giorgio Donadoni, Chairman of Bergamo Mechatronics Group, provide an outlook on the situation, as a long-term and realistic as possible, due to the circumstances. Mr. Dal Poz is close to the entrepreneurs of the whole Bergamo area, particularly struck in the business and health environments.
ADP: «There is a full and intense bond with Bergamo. The town is the backbone for our Federation in the Engineering Industry. I expressed my personal closeness to Mr. Donadoni, sharing a concern for a situation never faced before for a sector that is concentrated and strategic in this area.
I’m confident that companies will be able to start again on the right foot as soon as possible, but now the highest priority is to keep workers of all levels safe, together with whoever interacts with our companies, acting with great responsibility».
Chairman Donadoni, what is the mood within the board of your association and what are the main concerns you feel among your associates?
GD: «I thank Mr. Dal Poz for his support and I confirm what he previously declared. All my fellow entrepreneurs - hard-working men in our industry, the manufacturing excellence - have always been very clear about the importance of protecting their workers. In circumstances like this, the protection of workers is an undiscussed and absolute priority. I assure that these priorities have come out, in the awareness of everyone, in the many conference calls of these days of emergency. Besides being entrepreneurs, we are first of all men and women, fathers and mothers with a family; we have brothers, sisters, elderly parents and we have deep roots in our territory.
Who is in charge, especially for his responsibilities, must first and foremost seize the uncertainty of the moment, the restlessness, the anxiety and sometimes the panic given by the darkness of the tunnel he finds himself in and from which, in a reference to Baumann, he will get out easily only after to a lot of effort, a tunnel from which sooner or later the end must be seen. All these efforts and awareness, together with a high level of concentration, the respect of the given regulations, and the adjusting to the extraordinary circumstances that we are all experiencing, are a must. Each one does the best he can in his own area: this is what must be done. The doctor treats, the scientist carries out his research, the administrator manages, the entrepreneur makes business.
All this in synergy, of course. This is what we have always done though, and we still do in our companies: we share the entrepreneurial and productive choices, and that’s why we are the second best European manufacturing country. In this tragic moment, (no, not dramatic as everyone insists) everyone has to face and try to solve more than a contingency, including surviving not only as a company. This is an even more compelling reason to stick together. Therefore, some exploitative declarations by the social partners and by Mr. Patuanelli, Minister of The Italian Economic Development, for example, left us dumbfounded when he claimed to have “not given in to the entrepreneurs’ needs”.
This is a sterile and short-sighted populism, when excellent workers are opposed to other excellent companies, and does not lead anywhere. It refers to disputes largely overcame, a useless struggle of ghosts from the past that never learn anything from history. On the contrary, humanity, in its best version, is so because it learns from mistakes, not repeating them. I say, each one of us is afraid, but the salvation, that will come, combined with a recovery, can only be collective».
Mr. Dal Poz, can you confirm that you, as well, see little cohesion between civil society, the business community, the associations and the institutions?
ADP: «I would like to say that the dialogue with trade unions, trying to identify the most effective measures to take at the production level, has been positive and open for three weeks already. On a national scale, combined round tables with Federmeccanica, Assistal (the National Association of Industrial Facilities) and the three national trade unions had been already opened to discuss the main issues about this emergency. There is nothing more important than health, and this has always been our priority, already prior to COVID-19. By a protocol between Confindustria (the Italian employers' federation), the Unions and the Government the needs, the implementing procedures and the measures to be taken have been identified: distancing, use of Personal Protective Equipment, flexible incoming and outgoing of personnel, changes in some workstations.
I want to be very clear: the companies that have not been able to adapt with these guidelines, have actually found it impossible to continue their business. Federmeccanica is far from any negative dialectics. We do not want to be considered the kind of people who carry out their business at any cost. We want the conditions necessary to carry on our business in total and complete safety. This matter settled, we can then think about the aftermath, and how to face future market demands, few or many as they might be».
In this background there has been a talk about the war economy. How is the situation concerning the supportive measures given by the Government? Could anything else have been done, even at different times?
ADP: «We are still waiting for the financial support measures mentioned by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte. Taxes or administrative deadlines could be postponed. We have seen positive signs in terms of income support for workers. We expect the procedures to be streamlined and also accessible to the SMEs because, although major industries are the backbone of the economic system, there is a galaxy of big and small suppliers and sub-suppliers which revolves around them. I hope that the measures will also be available to individual companies or those with also just one employee.
There is talk about billions of euros available for income support. Private initiatives, starting with bank groups, have already been promoted through loan suspension, and financial support; Nonetheless, if these initiatives cannot be implemented, the State must step in, unlocking pre-existing funds or exploiting the flexibility granted by the EU to give fuel and funds to workers and companies that are not invoicing but still have deadlines that only later will be covered by the unemployment insurance. It is possible that in the next few days, our suppliers will be falling apart just like flies.
Think about a complex supply chain like the automotive one. If a small company of components closes, the whole chain gets stuck, up to the car manufacturers. This is what is meant for war economy. We must make sure that, at the reopening, all the links in the chain are ready to restart, otherwise there is a risk of a devastating domino effect.»
The long-term outlook, therefore, is rather worrying. How have you managed your companies these days? Have you had any infections?
ADP: «A couple of considerations, as an entrepreneur and as a national chairman: finding all the PPEs necessary for everyone, workers and visitors, has been very difficult. We do not have close contact situations in my sheet moulding company. For three weeks now, meetings are held remotely and we have implemented, wherever possible, smart-working activities. In short, the alert is very high. As Federmeccanica, we have been very active, remaining a landmark for territories and companies and supporting them in any way possible».
GD: «Since 24th February, we have taken all the necessary measures given by the government, improving also the safety standards. By applying them, we have taken into account the sensitivity of each of our employees, leaving total freedom not to come to work for those who did not feel it. We have also reduced access to the canteen, extended the service period, staggered entrances and reduced the time to stay in. We do not have particular problems of contiguity or closeness; We are equipped with the necessary PPEs. If managed with the necessary precautions, the company can be a place with minimal promiscuity, safer than elsewhere, including homes.
Just think about the promiscuity of family coexistence which is often consumed in small spaces, without the possibility of isolation for the infected person, or queues in supermarkets. For this reason, we insisted on thorough information about the correct behaviours to follow, inside and outside the company. We also had to face some cases of infection, so we are entitled to be a bit worried.
We have tackled the cases decisively, strictly following the rules, guided by the Local Health Care system, with great clarity of mind. Today, with a certain optimism, we see a reduction in infections, thanks to the prophylaxis applied a few weeks earlier, when the companies were still widely operational. This means that if the required prophylaxis is duly respected, results are attained. The enterprise is nonetheless ready to take further steps in reducing production or implementing a complete lockdown, demonstrating that we are hard workers, also ready to respond to the cry of pain and uncertainty of the people, despite the great concern of the country’s productive system and therefore its future economy».
Can we hope that all the associations and trade unions will work together for a common goal?
GD: «I believe that at this particular moment in time splitting up, holding against each other, taking the advantage of the situation, arguing for one’s own gain, is completely foolish. It is a bad and unthinkable behaviour to live on others’ bad luck. Without prejudice to each other's thoughts and expression, we don't need this now. We are a democracy, a democratic society just like, alas, the Covid-19 is. So let's put the political and corporate oppositions aside.
All the sectors of our society, trade associations, professionals, scientists and doctors, social partners, the whole of civil society and, most of all, us entrepreneurs, must remain more than ever supportive and united. We are confident in our ability to look further ahead, thanks to our territory and its people, for temperament, genius and hard work, and we will react to this seaquake and turn it into a challenge faced and won, from which we will be different from before, even better than before».
Mr. Donadoni, you said that companies and workers are very in tune, especially in hard times. Can you explain better what you mean, because in recent days we have heard some news highlighting tensions between companies and social partners.
GD: «As Mr. Dal Poz said, there is a positive mood within all the unions, there is full cooperation with common goals: workers’ health and employment safeguard are a shared concern. A possible default for many industrial and trade professional companies, due to inactivity, suspension of all investments and cancellation of current orders by customers, a risk of bad debt of the outstanding loans for many and serious difficulties in getting bank credit are also our concerns shared.
In the mechanical engineering sector, which I represent in the territory of Bergamo, the feedback received by many of the engineering companies shows an excellent harmony between the enterprises and the workers. Companies are aware of workers’ safety and are willing to meet the requests of whoever has asked to stay at home due to the difficult situation we are experiencing. There is transparency in the information to all the staff.
Moreover, many workers with great sense of responsibility and sense of belonging to the company, despite being legitimately concerned, often denying also the social partners’ requests, have shown themselves ready to work, keeping production going, trying to avoid the risk of irreversibly worsen an already fragile and uncertain situation.
Now more than ever, a trustworthy relationship has been established between the company and the co-worker - Each of them is in charge of their own responsibilities towards each other. For this very reason, my fellow entrepreneurs and I express our sympathy to all the workers who have lost their dearest loved ones. I praise and thank all the staff of each Bergamo company for what, with sacrifice and a bit of fear, they have done and for the choices each entrepreneur shared with his employees, each one of them guaranteeing their presence in the company, in such a trying time for the whole territory.
There has been a sense of generosity by both sides, from the entrepreneurs and workers of many companies, one of which I personally witnessed: our whole workforce (among the 160 employees and workers) collected and donated 25,000.00 euros to the territory, and that sum has been doubled by the company. I am very proud to represent this metalworking Bergamo, made up of loyal and hard-working men and women. All together, workers and entrepreneurs, are capable, through stamina and commitment to work, of facing these dramatic moments with great dignity, because “the good sailor can be seen in the stormy sea”».
ADP: «Mine is a call for unity - Awareness is imperative if we want the war economy to become an unanimous demand for financial support to companies. With a productive country stalled, it’s not hard to reach a point in time where it will be difficult to restart - An extraordinary cash injection will be needed and it has to be requested unanimously by all parties. Companies are our brainchildren, and it is hard to see them standing still. We are facing an unprecedented emergency. We must respect ourselves, safeguard and protect ourselves. We must enhance our true asset: the people. We will come back stronger, and I say this particularly to the entrepreneurs of Bergamo».
Note: This interwiew, by Arianna Mossali, appeared on Bergamo Economia March 2020 Issue and is published here courtesy of the magazine.