Carbonia, January 9 - A group of contract workers from the troubled Alcoa aluminum smelter in Portovesme, Sardinia, lowered themselves by cable to the bottom of a 10-metre mineshaft on Wednesday in their on-going protest for social welfare benefits for laid-off workers. For the last three days, Alcoa contract workers have occupied an iron tower at the ex-Serbariu coal mine in the depressed Sulcis area calling for reassurances from national and local government concerning their social welfare situation. The protestors want a framework agreement signed granting them social welfare benefits. On Tuesday, a worker threatened to jump from a 20-metre-high platform, but stopped after colleagues and emergency services intervened. The protest escalated again on Wednesday morning when some of the workers, faces covered, reached the bottom of the shaft located inside the metal tower, and closed themselves in an adjoining gallery after posting their union flags at the entrance. "It is a sign of how serious the situation is," said the RSU-CISL union delegate Manolo Mureddu, "We are very worried for our future and that of our families." The latest protest follows last year's decision by the US aluminium giant to power down its Portovesme smelter, which employed hundreds of people in the area. The plant has technically been at a standstill since November 1, while Alcoa promised to keep all workers employed through the end of 2012. Representatives of FIOM and UILM unions expressed their solidarity with the workers this morning. Carbonia Mayor Giuseppe Casti visited the foot of the tower on Wednesday. On Tuesday, Casti called for regional government intervention to tackle the social benefits issue.
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di Giovanni Pastore