Govt to fight ruling to halm production at ILVA plant

Jobs at risk, protests continue

Govt to fight ruling to halm production at ILVA plant

(ANSA) - Rome, August 13 - The Italian government said Monday it will go all the way to the Constitutional Court to challenge the latest judicial order that would block production at the troubled ILVA steel plant in Taranto. Justice Minister Paola Severino said that her office is challenging new court measures that would block work at the ILVA plant and remove as plant guardian the company's chairman, Bruno Ferrante. At the weekend, a preliminary hearings judge issued a new order countering rulings last week that would have kept the plant, one of Europe's largest steel producers, operating while it is upgraded to meet safety standards. In a statement Severino said she hoped that "a solution to the need to balance environmental needs with those of employment and public health factors can and should be found. "This is the path that the government intends to undertake". Ferrante said the weekend decision threatened the jobs of almost 12,000 people working at Europe's largest steel plant and many others in the supply chain linked it. He has previously said that ILVA will be forced to close two other plants in northern Italy if the Taranto factory is shut down. The case has bounced between courts as prosecutors and some local citizens have fought to close the plant while the government and unions work to keep it open as it undergoes a 336-million euro cleanup. In July a court had ordered the company to halt parts of its operations, but last week, another court partially reversed that order and named Ferrante as the administrator to oversee the impounded portions of the plant during the cleanup. Prosecutors say the plant has endangered workers and nearby residents with fumes and dust particles since 1995. All this had further heightened the controversy over the future of the ILVA plant, pitting community members against union workers fighting for their jobs in this southern city which has been hit hard by the recession. Both sides have been holding protest marches and other actions, including a two-hour strike planned for Monday by unions at the plant. Other workers set up road blocks Monday morning on the highway connecting Taranto to Brindisi, to highlight the dispute. Last week, an opposing citizen's group in Taranto denounced as a farce ILVA's plans to carry out health and safety upgrades while continuing to operate. "The plant is obsolete, and the company will never upgrade it," said a spokesperson for the group. Primier Mario Monti's government intends to fight the judicial order closing the plant on the grounds that it has the authority to set industrial policy in Italy, according to Antonio Catricala, secretary to the prime minister. "We will ask the Constitutional Court to see if it (the ruling) has not crippled our power to set industrial policy," Catricala told Rai radio. "We have established a decree in line with a precise orientation of the court to continue the work which is not harmful...and in the meantime, seriously begin work to clean up the plant". Last week, Labour Minister Elsa Fornero said she thought a court order to keep the troubled ILVA steel plant operating was "balanced" between the community's need for jobs and health concerns. Last year, the ILVA plant produced 8.5 million tonnes of steel, nearly 30%, of Italy's total steel production.

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