PORTOVESME, Italy (Reuters) - Two trade union leaders braved wind and rain atop a 60-meter high tower at Alcoa's (AA.N) smelter in Sardinia in a protest aimed at slowing down the U.S. aluminium producer's closure of the troubled plant.
"We believe Alcoa does not intend to stick to this week's agreement regarding the slowing down of closure procedures," Alcoa worker and union member Stefano Ansaldi told Reuters outside the factory gates.
Workers at the plant on the Mediterranean island have staged a series of demonstrations at the factory and in Rome that have turned the smelter into a national symbol of Italy's recession.
The union leaders, Rino Barca and Franco Barbi, climbed 60 metres up the water cooler on Wednesday evening after three masked workers spent several days perched atop the same tower last week.
On Monday the government said Alcoa had agreed to slow down the closure of the plant, buying the industry ministry time to talk to companies that have expressed interest in the plant.
In March an agreement between Alcoa, the unions and the Italian government stated that if no buyer could be found for the loss-making smelter by August 31, a shutdown would commence September 1.
"We are asking Alcoa to show a willingness to halt the closure process for around 20 days," said Luciano Fenu, a worker at the plant.
In a joint statement, Italy's three main metalworkers unions called on Mario Monti's technocrat government to intervene.
In an emailed statement on Thursday, Alcoa said it had met every commitment it had made to the Italian government, the regional administration and trade unions and would continue to do so.
"We have also provided additional concessions by extending employment through the end of the year as well as agreeing to a more gradual curtailment," it said.
The cost of energy is one of the main reasons the Sardinian plant has found it difficult to compete. Italy has asked the European Union if the plant would be able to use special interruptibility contracts to slash its power costs.
Earlier this week Italian wind power group Kite Gen Research became the third group to express interest in the smelter alongside Swiss industrial group Klesh and London-listed commodities trader Glencore (GLEN.L).
However, Alcoa reiterated on Wednesday it "has not received any expressions of interest that are viable or different to those previously considered".
Alcoa workers were due to hold a meeting at 1230 GMT (1:30 p.m. British time) on Thursday to decide on what kind of industrial action to take.
Fenu said the concern among the workers was that a possible strike could simply speed up the closure of the plant.
Alcoa's factory supports about 1,500 jobs in Sardinia. Its closure would be a heavy blow for the island which has a 15 percent unemployment rate, well above the national average.
Closure would also be a blow for Monti's government as it tries to fight growing joblessness due to a deepening recession.
At the end of July, the industry ministry was mediating in 131 other disputes between companies seeking to cut jobs and unions trying to preserve them, according to a ministry document obtained by Reuters. With more than 163,000 jobs at stake, Rome is likely to see more protests in coming months.
"An inspector from the government will be coming today to check at what stage the closing down process is," said Alberto Pili, a councillor for labour affairs at the Carbonia Iglesias province where the smelter is located.
Writing by Stephen Jewkes; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle