Alcoa workers protest as minister throws cold water on deal

Swiss company needs a few more days to consider

Alcoa workers protest as minister throws cold water on deal

(ANSA) - Cagliari, September 5 - As Alcoa workers continued to fight for their jobs, Italy's industry minister warned that the chances of finding a buyer for their troubled aluminium plant were not good. Yet on Wednesday, the company most interested in acquiring the Alcoa plant contradicted that claim. Swiss commodities group Glencore said it needs a few more days to evaluate a potential investment in the plant. "We'll see in a few days," a Glencore manager said after meeting with unions Wednesday morning. One day earlier, Industry Minister Corrado Passera expressed serious doubts in the plant's future. It's important to face "the fact that this is a nearly impossible situation with extremely little to interest possible investors," Passera said Tuesday. As he spoke, three workers at the Alcoa aluminium plant at Portovesme on the Italian island of Sardinia climbed to the top of a 70-metre silo and refused to come down despite wind and rain early Wednesday morning. One was reported to be in poor condition. The workers are protesting the American aluminium giant's plan to shut down the smelter, putting hundreds of jobs at risk. High energy prices have been blamed as a key factor in the shutdown, and Glencore is said to be driving a hard bargain, including concessions on infrastructure and energy costs. There's no reason the Italian government can't step in to help smooth a takeover, especially given how hard high energy costs are hitting businesses, said the leader of the Senate Felice Belisario. "Other European countries intervene to protect their domestic industry," Belisario said Wednesday. "(Yet) our government is only good for saying that it is impossible to save Alcoa. The plant in Portovesme must not close." The Italian government would be wise to help a new investor deal with the smelter's energy expenditures, said Giorgio Squinzi, the president of Italy's largest industrial employers' confederation Confindustria. The Alcoa plant can be saved "only if the requirements are met to provide energy at competitive prices," he said Wednesday in a television interview on Channel 5. "If you want to, you can do it," said Squinzi, adding that soaring energy costs are destroying other energy-intensive industries. Italy's cumbersome bureaucracy is also imposing a terrible toll on businesses, large and small, added Squinzi. Tuesday, union representatives met with political leaders in Rome, and a major demonstration is planned for September 10 in the Italian capital, including workers, local administrators and others whose businesses demand on the Alcoa plant. Alcoa has promised to keep all workers at its Portovesme plant employed through the end of the year. Work to begin shutting down parts of the Alcoa plant has been temporarily halted, pending further talks with Glencore.

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