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By Antonio Denti
ROME, April 5 Alitalia cancelled 60 percent of
scheduled flights on Wednesday as employees staged a 24-hour
strike to protest against the loss-making airline's plan to cut
16 percent of its staff and reduce flight personnel's salaries
by a third.
Italy's flagship carrier, which is 49 percent owned by
Etihad Airways, has made an annual profit only a few times in
its 70-year history. It is in a race against time to win union
support for its latest turnaround plan as it seeks to unlock
financing and avoid having to ground planes.
"We are on strike for the hundredth time because this crisis
at Alitalia, all the crises, and the industrial plan ... are
always against the workers," Paolo De Montis, a representative
of the USB union, said outside Rome's Fiumicino airport where
hundreds of workers gathered.
Alitalia CEO Cramer Ball has said the cuts were "painful but
necessary". Despite several overhauls and cash injections over
the years, Alitalia is losing at least half a million euros
($533,000) a day and could run out of cash in the coming weeks
unless shareholders agree to pump in more money, sources say.
Fiumicino's main terminal was deserted as only a few
passengers, who did not know about the strike, had turned up.
The airline said it would be operating a normal schedule for
six hours on Wednesday to mitigate the strike's impact.
"Workers need to get what they deserve but at the same time
it's really difficult when they interrupt travel, it really
hurts the economy," said Greg Curtis, a passenger from Florida,
the United States.
Alitalia said last month it expects to return to profit by
the end of 2019 through 1 billion euros of cost cuts over the
next three years and a revamp of its business model for short
and medium-haul flights.
After buying into Alitalia in 2014, Etihad pledged to return
the airline to profit by 2017, but the turnaround has faltered
in the face of competition from low-cost airlines such as
Ryanair and high-speed rail services, while deadly
attacks across Europe have dented demand for travel.
($1 = 0.9376 euros)
(Reporting by Antonio Denti in Rome, writing by Agnieszka Flak;
Editing by Susan Fenton)