April 14, 2017 / 9:25 AM / 4 months ago

Italy's Alitalia, unions agree preliminary deal in last-ditch talks

MILAN, April 14 (Reuters) - Alitalia and labour unions reached a preliminary agreement on Friday on job and pay cuts that the loss-making airline says are necessary to keep it in business, union and government officials said.

The tentative deal, needed to unlock fresh financing for the ailing Italian carrier, will however have to be approved by Alitalia workers in a ballot to become valid.

After marathon talks on Thursday night, the company and unions agreed to trim the scale of lay-offs among ground staff to around 1,700 from 2,037 previously envisaged, and reduce cuts to flight personnel wages to 8 percent from up to 30 percent, the head of the CGIL union Susanna Camusso said in a statement.

The government had hoped to win strong union backing for the plan by Thursday so that investors in the airline, including Etihad Airways with a 49 percent stake and Italy's top two banks Intesa Sanpaolo and UniCredit, could launch a cash call on Friday.

That now looks likely to be delayed until after the workers' ballot, which could possibly be held as early as next week.

"If the accord reached is approved by the workers, I imagine the shareholders will put the money in as planned," Industry minister Carlo Calenda told Radio 24 on Friday.

A member of the CGIL union who was present at the talks told Reuters that Alitalia had asked for the ballot to be held next week but it may not be possible to organise it so quickly.

The financing package for Alitalia is worth 2 billion euros ($2.1 billion), including an emergency cash injection of 400 million euros to keep it afloat if the rescue plan does not work out as expected.

The 400 million euro financing is set to be split in half between Etihad and the banks. Calenda said the government was ready to guarantee the 200 million euros to be provided by UniCredit and Intesa, as they have requested. (Reporting by Giulia Segreti and Gavin Jones; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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