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Alitalia scraps 40 flights over strike

Rome, September 17, 2008

Alitalia will cancel 40 flights on Wednesday because of a strike by a small union but not because of problems buying fuel for the near-bankrupt airline, an Alitalia spokesman said.

Alitalia's bankruptcy commissioner has warned that Italy's largest airline is running out of cash for fuel and that flights could be grounded if unions do not agree quickly to a buyout offer by a group of investors.

Labour Minister Maurizio Sacconi said Alitalia's major unions would be called on Thursday to say whether or not they agree to the rescue plan, which involves over 3,000 layoffs.

The small CUB union, leading Wednesday's strike, opposes the rescue plan for the state-controlled airline and is boycotting talks. But CUB support is not seen as critical to the deal.

"This is a massacre," said CUB union leader Fabio Frati. The four-hour strike is set to begin at 12 pm (1000 GMT). The cancelled flights are on Italian and European routes.

Transport Minister Altero Matteoli criticised striking when the near-bankrupt carrier can barely afford to keep flying.

"Calling a strike during negotiations shows great irresponsibility. The parties are negotiating, the government is directly involved," Matteoli told local television.

Unions are worried about job and wage cuts in a rescue plan that would see investors snap up only the profitable parts of the airline before relaunching it as a slimmed-down carrier.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has offered special payouts to the 3,250 workers who would lose their jobs but warns that the offer would be withdrawn if the airline collapses.

Deadlines have come and gone and Sacconi said the very last moment for unions to sign up would be Thursday when the business consortium's board decides whether to pursue the buyout.

"By Thursday morning, we'll ask who's on board. We'll sign with whoever's on board," Sacconi told local TV. "That way we will verify the level of consensus and everyone (all the unions) will be called to respond."    

An Alitalia collapse would be a huge political blow for Berlusconi, a media mogul who promised voters he would use his business contacts to find it an Italian buyer.

The airline loses more than 2 million euros a day -- a state of affairs blamed on years of political interference, labour disputes, mismanagement and, most recently, soaring fuel costs. "There is little money, actually very little and it's about to run out," said bankruptcy commissioner Augusto Fantozzi.

Alitalia risks becoming the first major European flag carrier to go bust since Swissair and Sabena collapsed in 2001. Britain's third-largest package holiday operator, XL Leisure Group, has grounded all flights after going into administration and discount carrier Zoom Airlines is in bankruptcy proceedings. - Reuters




Tags: strike | Alitalia |

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