August 12, 2012 / 11:06 AM / 8 years ago

Italian steel mill ILVA chief says court ruling threatens jobs

MILAN, Aug 12 (Reuters) - 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 in 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.

In what looks increasingly like a rift within the Taranto court house, Todisco on Friday said Ferrante was not administrator of the parts of the factory that are under court management, according to a copy of the court order seen by Reuters.

In a statement, Italy’s Environment Minister Corrado 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 recession.

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 centre-left Democratic Party (PD), one of the two main parties Prime Minister Mario Monti depends on for his majority.

Prosecutors sought the partial closure of the plant, one of the few large industrial sites in southern Italy, to protect public health.

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 and nearby residents. (Reporting and writing by Stephen Jewkes,; Additional reporting by Vincenzo Damiani in Bari; Editing by Alison Birrane)

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