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Fri, Dec 15, 2006

Alitalia Workers Stage Walk Off

Protesting Exclusion From Government - Management Decisions

Some travelers going to and from Italy today using the country's national airline Alitalia got a rude surprise -- many flights were canceled due to a walk out.

The airline's unions are worried about press reports Italy's government is looking for a buyer to take over the cash-hemorrhaging carrier.

So far, Italy's government hasn't gotten any nibbles for the ailing airline. Some say that's because the government hasn't issued a prospectus with all the requirements any sale would include, such as guaranteed staffing levels.

The latest word now is Italy's government has a draft sale prospectus, but hasn't shared any details with Alitalia's labor unions. The document is due for release sometime after the first of the year.

Italy's finance minister Tommaso Padoa-Schioppa announced this week the government is conscious how a potential buyer might be influenced by sale restrictions contained in the prospectus. In his comments, he specifically mentioned staffing would have to make commercial sense to a prospective purchaser.

Industry experts have narrowed the focus on Alitalia's loss-making problems to over-staffing. Some have called the airline nothing less than a jobs program for the government.

Padoa-Schioppa said if it could find a buyer, the government might retain a stake in the airline, but wouldn't likely hold enough to influence decisions by a majority owner.

He told the Financial Times, "It is desirable to have a strong flag-carrier but that does not mean it has to be the property of the state."

Although a sale prospectus hasn't been published, some details have leaked to the Italian press. Industry observers privy to the information say they are doubtful any buyer would be interested based on the current number of sale conditions.

A note on the airline's website says travelers should carefully check the schedule because today's walk out will likely cause disruptions for many days.

FMI: www.alitalia.com

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