Strikes strand travellers at Italy's airports, Alitalia unions call to strike on April 5

Strikes strand travellers at Italy’s airports, Alitalia unions call to strike on April 5

ROME — Tourists and travellers at airports across Italy are facing delays and cancelled flights, thanks to strikes by air traffic controllers and air transport workers.

Italy’s flagship carrier, Alitalia, said it was cancelling some 40% of its domestic and international flights Monday. Air France, British Airways, Lufthansa and other carriers also were cancelling flights due to the four-hour work action from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. by air traffic controllers and the 24-hour strike by transport workers.

It’s the first day of a difficult week for transport in Italy, with another taxi strike planned for Thursday and traffic chaos expected Saturday in Rome when the city hosts EU leaders for a summit.

To make matters even worse for travellers in Italy, 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%.

The 2,000 jobs on the block would reduce office staff by half and ground staff by 20 per cent, 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% 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-labour-related costs.

The plan envisages a 30 % 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.

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