The minimum wage has increased by about 8 percent for the 16,200 people employed at the 880 companies operating in the Italian eyewear industry under a labor agreement signed by their trade association, Anfao, with the labor unions to cover the three-year period since last Jan. 1 and the end of 2015. The association says that the increase is comparable to those that have been negotiated in Italy for other industrial sectors.

Until last month, the minimum monthly wage stood at €1,476 in the industry. Starting last month, it grew by €122 and it will remain at that level until December 2015. The wage increase is partly retroactive to Jan. 1, 2013: To cover the first ten months of this year, the employees are getting an extra bonus of €417.

On top of the higher minimum wage, the employees are getting an annual supplement of €290 for 2013 and 2014, which will go up to €310 in 2015, unless they negotiate a better agreement with the management of the individual companies. The latter scenario will likely apply especially to the larger firms in the industry and those that make higher profit margins.

The new collective labor agreement also recognizes more rights for men and women to take care of their children, to protect them in case of temporary employment and to provide them with vocational training.

The agreement will cover mainly the 12,800 employees operating at 485 large and small companies in the Cadore area north of Venice, which generated a combined turnover of €2,890 million in 2012. The industry's second-largest cluster is in the area of Varese near Milan, where Mazzucchelli and 32 other companies employ about 1,000 people and generate annual sales of more than €200 million.

As an antidote to the Italian recession, the optical industry continues to invest in the expansion of its exports. They increased by 7 percent in 2012, covering about one-quarter of the total world market, and by a further 5.4 percent in the first half of this year.

The companies in the sector are now betting on the fast-growing emerging markets of Latin America, where Italy's exports increased by 13.4 per cent in 2012. With the support of the Italian Trade Commission (Ice), Anfao organized a show a few days ago in a big hotel in Miami. A group of 17 Italian companies presented their products there to 35 buyers invited from 13 countries in Central and South America: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru, Dominican Republic, Uruguay and Venezuela.

This came after a two-day workshop organized by Anfao and Ice in Singapore on Oct. 31 and Nov. 1, where 20 Italian firms met about 40 buyers from all over Southeast Asia.  The event preceded the Hong Kong Optical Fair, where 16 Italian companies had a presence.