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Alitalia unions call strike for April 5 to protest cuts

By: COLLEEN BARRY, Associated Press
March 17, 2017 Updated: March 17, 2017 at 2:29 pm
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photo - In this picture taken  Wednesday, May 7, 2014, Alitalia planes are parked on the tarmac prior to take off from the Linate airport, in Milan, Italy. Unions representing Alitalia workers on Friday, March 17, 2017, announced a strike on April 5 to protest deep job and salary cuts as part of a new plan to relaunch the struggling airline. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)
In this picture taken Wednesday, May 7, 2014, Alitalia planes are parked on the tarmac prior to take off from the Linate airport, in Milan, Italy. Unions representing Alitalia workers on Friday, March 17, 2017, announced a strike on April 5 to protest deep job and salary cuts as part of a new plan to relaunch the struggling airline. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno) 

MILAN (AP) — Unions representing Alitalia workers announced an April 5 strike to protest job and salary cuts that are part of the company's plans to relaunch the struggling airline.

Nino Cortorillo of the Filt-Cigl union came out of a meeting Friday with management at Rome's Fiumicino Airport saying workers would strike to protest plans to lay off more than 2,000 ground personnel and slash the salaries of flight personnel by 25 to 35 percent.

"In my opinion, we were not presented with an industrial plan," Cortorillo told Sky TG24. "An industrial plan includes prospects for the enterprise, which we did not see. Today, we were presented with a plan for cuts."

The 2,000 jobs on the block would reduce office staff by half and ground staff by 20 percent, the airline said in a statement. Alitalia employs 12,500 people worldwide.

Alitalia CEO Cramer Ball defended the cuts in a statement, saying "headcount reductions are a painful but necessary action that, alongside other cost reductions, will stabilize our financial situation and create long-term sustainability."

Unions are seeking to meet with the Italian government as soon as Monday to discuss alternatives for relaunching Alitalia.

Media reports have suggested the state-backed investment bank could take a stake and inject cash into the carrier, but Cortorillo rejected short-term salvage measures, saying the airline's long-term health needs to be addressed.

The struggling airline was taken over nearly three years ago by Etihad Airlines, which is based in Abu Dhabi, after being run by an all-Italian consortium led by banks Unicredit and Intesa Sanpaolo. Though Etihad runs the airline, the consortium still retains a 51-percent stake in the carrier.

The business plan approved by the Alitalia board this week includes 1 billion euros (1.07 billion) in cost-cutting measures over three years that are aimed at helping the airline better compete with low-cost carriers that have captured nearly half of the Italian market.

Alitalia said Friday that two-thirds of those cuts would be achieved through non-labor-related costs.

The plan envisages a 30 percent bump in revenue to 3.7 billion euros and profitability by 2019.

Alitalia plans to reduce its narrow-body planes by 20 while refitting the remainder of the fleet with more seats, and introduce services on domestic and European flights that are common to budget carriers, including charges for meals, priority boarding and preferred seating.

A full-service model would be retained for long-haul flights. The airline said it would buy six new long-haul aircraft during 2019-2021, on top of two planned by next year, to service 10 new routes requiring up to 500 more crew members.

Airline analyst Gregory Alegi said the plan fails to outline where Alitalia will achieve the revenue boost and noted that airlines have not had great success balancing low-cost and full-service models within the same company.

"How can you grow revenue if you are cutting routes?" Alegi asked. "Yes, you can hope to put more people on airplanes. But if you are cutting the number of airplanes, you are cutting frequencies."

In a separate development, Alitalia cancelled 40 percent of its flights scheduled for Monday due to previously announced strikes by air traffic controllers and in the transport sector.

It said flights during morning and afternoon peak travel hours would operate on schedule, and that bigger planes would be deployed to carry as many passengers as possible, both domestically and internationally.

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