Thousands of EU travellers hit as Alitalia strike cancels 60% of flights

2017-02-23 16:39
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Milan - A strike at Alitalia hit the travel plans of thousands of people on Thursday as the Italian carrier was forced to cancel 60 percent of flights.

Unions called a four-hour stoppage hitting domestic and international flights from 13:00 GMT in protest against a major restructuring which is set to see Alitalia shed hundreds of jobs and slash salaries.

The carrier sought to minimise inconvenience to passengers with mailed, texted and phoned warnings and said more than half would be able to fly later Thursday. Alitalia added it had found workaround solutions for some 90 percent overall.

But the firm is "in a critical situation," union leader Nino Cortorillo told AFP.

"We have been waiting for months for shareholders to come up with a strategic plan" to salvage a "deteriorating financial situation," said Cortorillo.

"Staff are very concerned. They have already been through two restructurings in 2008 and in 2014," which between them saw 9 000 jobs go.

Media reports indicate there could be up to 3 000 layoffs from a total workforce of 12,000 - already down from 20,000 in 2008.

"But we don't get told anything," complained Cortorillo.

He accused the company of failing to respect national worktime and pay guidelines, something he said was "unprecedented in our country."

Alitalia continues to struggle despite Etihad Airways taking a controlling 49 percent stake in 2014 and injecting 560 million euros ($590 million) as part of a 1.8 billion euro rescue deal designed to return the airline to profitability this year.

The Italian carrier last year made a 460 million euro loss and faces a similar shortfall this year.

Alitalia's Australian CEO has been working on a new strategic plan to lift the company's fortunes.

Initially scheduled for early February, the plan, involving "radical changes", salary cuts and cutting jobs as well as greater focus on long haul, is now set to be unveiled early next month.

Cortorillo warned Alitalia's problem "is a very weak long haul presence" while it is "strong on short haul, where low-cost competition is tough".

Last month, Italian Transport Minister Graziano Delrio called for a clear strategic plan to be laid out ahead of any discussion on layoffs.

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