* Monti makes concession to speed up reform
* Big political parties give backing
* Biggest union reserves judgment
By Alberto Sisto
ROME, April 4 Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti
made concessions to unions and a major centre-left party on
Wednesday in a bid to ensure swift approval in parliament of
labour reforms that would make it easier to fire workers.
Monti and Labour Minister Elsa Fornero said the revised
proposals would allow courts to order the reinstatement of
workers laid off for business reasons where the justification
was "manifestly non-existent".
However, they said the concession would not change the basic
principle of the reform, which is intended to encourage hiring
by companies currently held back by the fear that they will not
be able to shed staff when business conditions warrant.
"We can no longer say that, once you have a job, it's yours
forever," Fornero told a news conference.
Monti said leaders of the coalition of parties backing his
technocrat government in parliament had agreed to the changes.
This should ensure smooth approval of a reform widely seen as an
indicator of his ability to revive Italy's stagnant economy.
"We think we've found a point of equilibrium," Monti said,
adding that he hoped the parliamentary process would be
"thorough but also rapid".
Monti's original plan infuriated the CGIL, Italy's biggest
union, and was rejected by the centre-left Democratic Party
(PD), the second biggest group supporting him in parliament.
The CGIL said it would not comment until it saw a written
proposal. But Raffaele Bonnani, leader of the moderate CISL
union, said that "the issue that worried us the most has been
settled in a reasonable manner".
Democratic Party leader Pier Luigi Bersani told state
television: "I think that my party and our supporters and
citizens in general will be satisfied with this change."
After a four-month honeymoon following his appointment to
avert a Greek-style debt crisis in November, Monti has run into
bitter opposition over reforms and tough budget cuts.
In a sign of how different the climate has become since
Monti first replaced the scandal-plagued Silvio Berlusconi, the
head of one of the main opposition parties blamed him for a wave
of suicides attributed to the economic crisis.
Monti refused to comment on the accusation.
Markets have been closely following the labour reforms, seen
as a symbol of Monti's capacity to push through unpopular
changes to an economy that has been among the most sluggish in
the euro zone for more than a decade.
Attention has focused on a battle over Article 18 of the
labour code, a provision dating from the height of union power
in 1970 that makes it hard for firms to fire individuals.
The CGIL and critics on the left say the proposed changes
will do nothing to encourage new hiring and will leave large
numbers of mainly younger workers stuck on dead-end short term
contracts offering few prospects or benefits.
"Article 18 was a great conquest, but the world has
changed," Fornero said.
Monti said the measures would increase "exit flexibility", a
term used to describe the ease with which companies can fire
employees, while protecting workers against unjustifed dismissal
and limiting the scope of judges to interfere in management.
He urged the PD and Berlusconi's centre-right PDL, his
biggest parliamentary supporter, to pass the reform rapidly
because it would give a signal to bond markets still nervous
about Italy's ability to implement reforms that boost growth.
"For the overall impact of the reform, it is not just the
contents that are important but also the speed with which
parliament undertakes the necessary examination," he told the
daily La Stampa.
Monti also said that a right-left coalition like the one
that supports him in parliament might be a good solution for
Italy after next year's national election.
"If the situation still requires it, then I imagine that
(the parties) will be willing to take advantage of their
heightened ability to dialogue and to think of broad solutions,
grand coalitions," Monti said.