Air France-KLM to submit new Alitalia document: union sources

( AFP ) - Air France-KLM will submit fresh proposal to improve its offer for struggling carrier Alitalia on Friday, meeting some key demands from labour, union officials said after a meeting with its chairman.

The head of Air France-KLM, Jean-Cyril Spinetta, told Tuesday's meeting he was ready to submit a new document on Friday, the sources said.

Press reports had said Spinetta was likely to soften some of the terms of the offer to meet labour concerns over job losses and the future of Alitalia's cargo and ground services operations.

Spinetta expressed a willingness "to study the possible inclusion of the operations of (Alitalia ground services unit) AZ Servizi at Rome's Fiumicino airport," one of the sources said.

He also raised the possibility that some 180 pilots from Alitalia's cargo division could be found new positions within the company before the freight service is closed down in 2010, the labour official said.

Additionally, Air France-KLM would be open to continuing negotiations beyond March 31, provided Alitalia has enough funds to continue operating in the meantime, the source added.

March 31 is the cut-off date for unions to respond formally to Air France-KLM's offer to buy the 49.9 percent state-owned stake in struggling Alitalia.

Spinetta failed last week to win the backing of the trade unions, whose support he has said is critical to the rescue of Alitalia.

Air France-KLM originally planned some 2,100 job cuts at Alitalia to reduce the size of the chronically loss-making airline whose fate has become caught up in Italian elections due April 13 and 14.

Tipped to win the premiership for a third time at the polls, right-wing opposition leader Silvio Berlusconi dismissed Air France-KLM's initial offer as "arrogant" and vowed to reject it, if elected, in favor of an Italian solution.

Berlusconi's threat in turn prompted a rebuke from leftist Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema.

"The fate of this company, which faces bankruptcy because there is no serious alternative to Air France, seems not to interest Berlusconi," D'Alema said Tuesday.

Alitalia chairman Maurizio Prato tried previously to convince Air France-KLM to take on board AZ Servizi, which employs 8,300 people and is currently controlled by the public holding company Fintecna.

Fabrizio Solari, general secretary of the leading Alitalia union Filt-Cgil, said before the meeting with Spinetta that he welcomed signs that Air France-KLM would modify its terms but that "these openings must be verified.

"It is one thing to read about them in the press, another to hear them stated at the negotiating table," Solari said.

"If they are only a gesture to keep the talks going, then that is fine, but not decisive. If, on the other hand, they are genuine, then real negotiations could begin," he added.

Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi called on unions at Alitalia Monday to show "a sense of responsibility" in the talks with Air France-KLM.

"A great sense of responsibility on the part of the unions is needed," Prodi told Sky TG 24 television. "They must think of the future of the company with great care."

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