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Italian PM rules out nationalisation of Alitalia

IANS | Rome |

Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni said on Wednesday that Italy's failing flagship carrier Alitalia cannot be nationalised, after workers rejected a restructuring plan to keep the airline in business.

"Alitalia needs to be competitive….it cannot be nationalised," Gentiloni told journalists, adding that he was "disappointed" that Alitalia's 12,000 workers had voted against the turnaround plan involving job and salary cuts that would have unlocked 2 billion euros of investments for the company.

"But the government will not squander the airline's assets and human resources," Gentiloni vowed.

Alitalia will receive a government bridging loan of 300-400 million euros to keep it operational while a new owner is sought, Italy's economic development minister Carlo Calenda told Radio 24 on Wednesday.

"The workers' anger won out," the Fit-Cisl union's general secretary Antonio Piras said on Monday after two-thirds of Alitalia workers rejected the last-ditch plan that had been agreed with unions.

The government-brokered turnaround plan was agreed last week after marathon talks in which Alitalia's management and unions agreed to lay off around 1,700 ground staff and cut pilot and cabin crew wages by 8 per cent.

Alitalia had warned that backing by its workforce was essential to obtain fresh funds from its shareholders including Dubai-based Etihad Airways, which owns 49 per cent of the airline, and Italy's top two banks, Intesa Sanpaolo and UniCredit.

The carrier said in March that it aimed to return to profit in 2019 by cutting 1 billion euros in costs over three years, revamping its business model and investing more in long-haul routes.

Long-haul routes are crucial to the airline's survival in the face of competition from low-cost airlines and high-speed rail services, according to analysts.

Alitalia was privatised in 2009 and has gone through several restructurings. It has made an annual profit only a few times in its 70-year history and has received four billion euros in bailouts by successive Italian governments and private investors.