(Adds comments from Industry Minister, source on judge)
MILAN Aug 12 The jobs of thousands of workers
at ILVA, Europe's biggest steel plant, are at risk if the
factory in southern Italy has to stop production as ordered on
Friday by an Italian judge, ILVA Chairman Bruno Ferrante said in
a newspaper interview on Sunday.
"I don't even want to pronounce that word (layoffs) ... But
if they block production here, the outlook gets more complicated
not just for the almost 12,000 employees, but also for the whole
supply chain," Ferrante said in an interview with Italian
newspaper la Stampa.
On Saturday, Ferrante said he would appeal a ruling by
preliminary court judge Patrizia Todisco saying the factory must
not produce steel while it makes court-ordered improvements to
its production line.
At the request of prosecutors in Taranto, Todisco had
originally ordered the factory's partial closure last month
because of concerns that pollution was harming the health of the
workers and local residents.
But an appeals court ruled last week that ILVA could remain
open as it upgraded its production line to meet regulatory
standards, a decision the company interpreted as a green light
for continued steel production.
The appeals court also named Ferrante a court administrator
of the factory.
But in what looks increasingly like a rift within the
Taranto courthouse, Todisco on Saturday said Ferrante was not
among the pool of administrators and reappointed Mario
Tagarelli, who had been excluded by the appeals court, a
judicial source said.
"The closure and turning off of the plant must be avoided at
all costs, something that would cause irreparable damage.
Nothing will be left untried," newswire ANSA reported Italy's
Industry Minister Corrado Passera as saying on Sunday.
Passera said Environment Minister Corrado Clini and Justice
Minister Paola Severino were also dealing with the matter,
keeping Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti constantly briefed.
In a statement on Saturday, Clini said the decision to stop
production may hamper, rather than accelerate, the need to
improve and clean up the factory.
"We must not forget that the legal battles and social
conflict triggered by the prospect of plant closure could
interrupt or seriously delay the clean-up plans for the
factory," he added.
The July order to shut down parts of the factory triggered
protests from ILVA workers, who live in an area that already
faces chronic unemployment and social unrest because of the
The order to halt production brought a chorus of complaints
from politicians, trade unionists and industrialists. Italy's
employers' association Confindustria expressed serious concern
for the effects of the ruling.
"It's a decision that is difficult to understand, which
weighs heavily on the company and its ability to carry on," it
said in a statement.
"The prospects of a strategic company and the future of tens
of thousands of workers are at risk," said Stefano Fassina,
economic spokesman of the center-left Democratic Party (PD), one
of the two main parties the prime minister depends on for his
majority in parliament.
Prosecutors sought the partial closure of the plant, one of
the few large industrial sites in southern Italy, to protect
Magistrates, who put several company executives under house
arrest, said a detailed study conducted over several years
demonstrated that the plant's fumes and dust particles
endangered the health of thousands of workers as well as nearby
(Reporting and writing by Stephen Jewkes; additional reporting
by Vincenzo Damiani in Bari, editing by Alison Birrane, Gary