Unions green light Alitalia rescue deal

15th Sep 2008

The future of beleaguered Alitalia has taken an upturn after Italy’s four main unions agreed to a rescue deal with the airline’s potential buyer this morning. However the Italian national carrier remains perilously close to liquidation with flights in risk of being grounded due to a lack of cash to buy fuel.The buy-out consortium, Compagnia Aerea Italia (CAI), pledges a €1bn investment injection on the proviso 3,000 jobs are axed, remaining staff take cuts of 30% and increase working hours. Labour unions had vehemently opposed the measures, saying they offered “absolutely nothing”, but this morning agreeed to a rescue plan that would cut about 3,000 jobs, leaving 12,500 workers at the slimmed-down airline.
“It’s a first, important step,” said Raffaele Bonanni of the CISL union.
Silvio Berlusconi earlier attacked the unions, describing their behaviour as “suicidal intent” and claiming that extremists were exploiting the crisis to inflict damage on his right-wing coalition.
“There are political motives at work that have got nothing to do with the interests of the workers. The Left wants to hit at the government without giving any though to the disaster that this could cause to the whole country,” he said.
However, Berlusconi’s insistence that the flagship carrier must remain in Italian hands has closed the door on a possible white knight takeover by KLM-Air France.
Once a symbol of Italy’s post-war boom, Alitalia has for years suffered from political interference, labour disputes, financial troubles and most recently from soaring fuel costs.
The airline, which is operating under a bankruptcy commissioner, has not been in profit since 1999 and has a debt of over €1.2bn.
As well as outstanding fuel payments, Alitalia also owes money to hotels where pilots and cabin crew stay during stopovers, and also to caterers that provide in-flight meals.
An Alitalia collapse would be a huge political blow for Berlusconi who promised voters he would use his business contacts to find it an Italian buyer.
The state holds a 49.9 percent stake in the airline and its publicly trade shares have been suspended since June.


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