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Draft deal to save Alitalia signed by some unions

Amid frantic, last-ditch talks to try to save Alitalia, some unions signed a draft deal with CAI, a consortium prepared to invest in the beleaguered Italian airline, amid fears the airline may start cancelling flights Monday.

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Some of the nine unions representing Alitalia staff have signed a draft deal with CAI, a consortium prepared to invest in a new revamped Italian airline, it was announced early Monday.

The accord, accepted by four unions but with the notable exception of pilots and cabin staff, lays down the number of personnel employed by the new Alitalia as 12,500 including 1,500 pilots, 3,300 cabin staff and 7,650 technicians, workers and managerial staff, Ansa news agency said.

CAI had previously offered to employ only 11,500 people, Ansa quoted the unions as saying.

Last-ditch talks to save Alitalia had got under way Sunday, with prospective buyers, unions and the government struggling to agree on how to salvage the country's flag carrier.

The five non-signing unions immediately rejected the accord, issuing a joint statement saying it was "useless and provocative" and "does not represent Alitalia's work force."

The five -- SDL, ANPAC, UP, ANPAV and Avia -- had waited all evening and into the night to be called in to the meeting held at the labour ministry.

Meanwhile the four signatories -- CGIL, CISL, UIL and UGL -- were taking part in the talks with the would-be buyers.

The meeting wound up early Monday with approval of the draft deal laying out the industrial plan of the new company but avoiding the thorny problem of a single contract for all staff proposed by CAI.

The deal was described by CISL Secretary-General Raffaele Bonnani as a "major first step to save Alitalia."

A further meeting was planned around noon Monday at the labour ministry to continue the negotiations.

Under the latest rescue plan, the Italian consortium, which has put a one billion euro (1.4 billion dollar) offer for the troubled airline on the table, would ensure passenger flights keep running.

Alitalia would also merge with Air One, the country's second largest airline, and its 1.2 billion euro debt would be absorbed by a second company, which would then be liquidated.

Earlier meetings this weekend yielded small advances, according to daily La Reppublica, which reported that potential buyers increased their salary package for Alitalia employees by 100 million euros (140 million dollars).

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who has personally intervened in the talks, said Saturday Alitalia's closure would be a "disaster for the entire country."

He also accused the left-wing opposition of backing the "unreasonable behaviour" of the airline's employees.

The company has been living on state-funded life support, with Italian investors and unions having failed to agree on the salary, vacation and contract demands outlined in the current takeover package.

Massimo Notaro, the head of one Italy's two main pilot unions, UP, described Sunday as "completely unacceptable" a CAI forecast that 1,000 pilots might lose their jobs.

On Saturday, special administrator Augusto Fantozzi -- appointed last month when the airline asked to be declared insolvent -- warned that Alitalia would no longer be able to guarantee flights starting Monday.

"Up to tomorrow we have guaranteed flights, but not on Monday because no one will supply us with kerosene," Fantozzi said, according to union sources quoted by Italian news agencies.

In a statement later, Fantozzi denied he had been so alarmist but acknowledged "there are risks of supply difficulties which could threaten certain flights."

He also warned that cabin staff from 34 unused planes would be laid off.

Alitalia, a national symbol for Italians since it was founded in 1946, has lurched for years from crisis to crisis, and from restructuring plans to the latest takeover rescue scheme.

Its collapse would be a severe political blow to right-wing premier Berlusconi, who had promised before the last elections that he would keep it flying under Italian control.

The last proposal, based on a takeover by Air France-KLM, fell apart in April when the French-based carrier -- the world's third biggest -- walked away from talks after unions rejected terms.

The Italian government owns 49.9 percent of Alitalia, which has been surviving on a state loan of 300 million euros made at the end of April.

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