The paper, in order also to stimulate research in the field, recalls the most significant changes and trends in the system of representation of employers’ interests in Italy, with particular reference to the gradual shift in the criteria and organizational structure of the existing associations, as well as the role - providing services for their members and bargaining - they play. The reciprocal influences between these changes and the industrial relations, in particular the collective bargaining system, are highlighted. The emerging pattern shows that the now stable trend towards a wider decentralization of collective bargaining calls into question the function of bargaining representation of employers’ associations, as on one hand it greatly weakens sector bargaining and on the other hand reinforces company bargaining, directly in the hands of single companies. In a European context that, in spite of the differences in national models and regulatory frameworks, points out a decline in the representation and power of influence of social partners, the Author proposes - as an alternative to the erosion of collective bargaining as a system - a more determined bargaining structure decentralization, albeit coordinated by the center, in order to preserve the key function of employers’ associations and trade unions and, thusly, guarantee the survival of industrial relations.
Keywords: Employers’ associations; Industrial relations; Collective bargaining; Bargaining structure decentralization.