Workers of Italy's Ilva steel plants go on strike as talks continue

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ROME, Dec. 10 (Xinhua) -- Workers of Italy's Ilva went on strike on Tuesday, as negotiations over the uncertain future of the steel company continued between the government, multinational steel giant ArcelorMittal, and trade unions.

Negotiations aimed at preventing ArcelorMittal to pull out from an agreement to take over the former Ilva group and its subsidiaries, including the most troubled plant in southern Taranto city.

With thousands of jobs at stake, the country's three largest trade unions CGIL, CISL, and UIL promoted a 32-hour work stop in all plants starting from 12 p.m. local time on Monday night.

Simultaneously, they called for a rally in the Italian capital that drew thousands of workers from Taranto and all of the other factories across the country.

"Our message addresses both the government... and the company," CGIL Secretary-General Maurizio Landini told the crowd gathered in Rome.

"ArcelorMittal made a mistake by appealing to the court... it should sit around the table and negotiate instead, starting from the deal inked with unions in September last year," he added.

ArcelorMittal signed a preliminary agreement in 2017 to take over Ilva, and finalized the deal in September last year.

In the agreement, the steel giant committed to paying 1.8 billion euros (2 billion U.S. dollars) for loss-making Ilva steelworks, plus 1.25 billion euros in production investments, and 1.15 billion euros in environmental investments.

As for the government, the three unions' leaders urged it to revamp the national industrial policy to avoid a loss of jobs and productivity in the country.

ArcelorMittal announced its intention to withdraw in a formal notice addressed to Ilva's extraordinary commissioners on Nov. 4, after Italian authorities decided to scrap a promised legal shield that would have ensured the company immunity in the clean up of the plant in Taranto, which has been related to thousands of cancer cases in recent years.

Beside this, Ilva workers' unions were worried by the multinational's industrial plan, which would cut 4,691 jobs from a current workforce of 10,789 units by 2023.

Unveiled by ArcelorMittal in a meeting at the Economic Development Ministry (MISE) last week, this plan of dismissals was deemed unacceptable by both Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and trade unions.

Meanwhile, talks among the parts involved continued, and PM Conte -- talking to the press on the sidelines of an event on Monday -- stressed the negotiations with ArcelorMittal were "only at the beginning."

Economic Development Minister Stefano Patuanelli would chair a new round of talks with steel trade unions and Ilva's commissioners at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, according to a ministry statement.

In an interview with private TV channel La7 news program ahead of the strike, Patuanelli confirmed the government was contemplating playing a role in the future of Ilva.

"Some hypotheses are being considered, which would see the presence of the state as a guarantor for the implementation of the industrial plan," Patuanelli told La7. (1 euro = 1.11 U.S. dollars) Enditem

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