Although the commercial agent falls within the category of self-employed workers, the majority jurisprudence does not consider it necessary to exclude the applicability to that relationship of the rules set forth in Article 2077 of the Civil Code, which establishes the non-derogation in pejus of collective agreements by the parties.

Therefore, in the event of the application of the AEC to the contract, any conflict between the collective discipline and that resulting from the individual contract, the individual discipline will prevail only if it is more unfavourable to the agent.

There are, however, differing legal and doctrinal orientations, which favour the validity of an individual agreement that is worse than the common law collective discipline.

In the Italian legal system, the figure of the agent operating as a natural person, for both historical and cultural reasons, is very peculiar, such as to have led doctrine and jurisprudence to frame it in the tertium genus of worker "parasubordinate".

On this point, it suffices to recall that institutes typical of salaried employment are applied to this figure, such as the notion of just cause under Article 2119 of the Civil Code, the discipline of waivers and settlements under Article 2113 of the Civil Code, as well as the devolution of disputes to the labour court expressly provided for by Article 409 of the Code of Civil Procedure.

To make matters even more 'hybrid', there is certainly the application of collective economic agreements to the agency contract, which occurs whenever:

  • both parties (i.e. both the agent and the principal) are members of the contracting trade unions;
  • there is an express reference to AEC in the agency agreement;
  • there is a tacit reference, i.e. whether the continuous and constant application of the AEC rules by the contractors can be inferred.[1]

Read also Collective bargaining. Origins, value and enforceability. And if a contractor is a foreigner, do they apply or not?

The question therefore arises as to whether, since collective agreements can be assimilated to collective labour agreements, it is correct or not to extend to the former the discipline of the latter, with particular reference to the rule in Article 2077, paragraph 2 of the Civil Code, which provides that:

"Differing clauses in individual contracts, whether pre-existing or subsequent to the collective agreement, shall be superseded by those of the collective agreement as of right, unless they contain special conditions that are more favourable to employees."

This rule prohibiting derogation in peius is designed and is compatible with the privatist principles of collective bargaining, which are aimed at subjecting the subjects represented by the stipulating associations to a common discipline and at removing the regulation of certain relationships from the excessive influence of employers.

In any event, while there is an effective applicability of certain labour law institutions to the discipline of the agent, the figure of the agent (especially as conceived by the European Directive 86/653) must certainly be included in the category of the self-employed, since he assumes the risk of the useful result of his activity, in contrast to the employee who transfers this risk, through the security of his salary, to his employer.

In essence, the collaboration performed by the agent is carried out under a regime of full autonomy, whereas that performed by the employee is carried out under a regime of hierarchical subordination, with the employer organising the employee's energies.[2]

On the basis of this assumption, i.e. the character of the staff member endowed with organisational autonomy and not subject to binding disciplinary authority, the - albeit long-standing - case law of the Court has held that the partial subjection of the staff member to the rules dictated for employment relationships

"does not entail any equivalence between the two contracts with the consequence that the principle of the nullity of modifications in pejus of contractual agreements valid for the employment contract is not applicable to the agency contract. "[3]

The Court held that it was compatible with the contractual autonomy of the parties and, therefore, not subject to the rules of Article 2077 of the Civil Code for an individual agreement to be worse than the collective rules applicable to the individual agency relationship, precisely because of the non-subordinate nature of that contract.

More recently, it has been held in case law that collective rules on agency agreements are binding on the assumption of implicit or explicit adherence,[4] the thesis that excludes: "the non-derogability of the AEC and the applicability of Art. 2077 of the Civil Code to the agency relationship as an external source. [5]

This thesis is once again based on the assumption that the assimilation of the agency relationship to the employment relationship is to be understood as limited only to certain specific institutions, such as the notion of just cause pursuant to Article 2119 of the Civil Code, while the difference in nature and discipline between the two relationships remains firm and clear.

It has also been rightly noted in doctrine that the non-derogation of common law AECs raises many doubts since it is not reflected in any provision of law. The only provision that deals with the non-derogation of collective agreements is in fact Article 2113 of the Civil Code on waivers and settlements which, although it also applies to 'para-subordinate' agents, does not provide for the nullity of any clauses of the individual contract contrary to the CSA, but only the possibility of challenging within a period of six months the waiver or settlement having as its object the collective rule.[6]

There is, however, a prevailing orientation of jurisprudence that deems, without going into too much detail on the regions, a contractual clause that differs from and worsens the regulation of AECs to be null and void, making specific reference to the regulation of Article 2077 of the Civil Code.[7]

[1] Cass. Civ. 1993 No. 1359, In this case, the Supreme Court held that the AEC was applicable to the agency contract, even though the principal was not a member of the trade union association and there was no express reference in the contract: instead, it recognised the existence of a consolidated company practice over time of the principal's compliance with the collective legislation.

[2] BALDI - VENEZIA, The Agency Contract, p. 33, 2020, Giuffrè.

[3] Cass. civ., 03/11/1980, no. 5860.

[4] Cass. Civ. 1999 no. 368.

[5] Court of Appeal Venice, 25.1.2011.


[7] Tribunale Torino 25.5.2021, Cass. Civ. 2004, no. 10774, Cass. Civ. 2000, no. 8133.