Coal mine occupation ends after Italy rules out shutdown

Reuters News
Posted: Sep 03, 2012 12:52 PM
Coal mine occupation ends after Italy rules out shutdown

By Naomi O'Leary

ROME (Reuters) - Miners ended a week-long occupation of Italy's only coal mine on Monday after the regional government promised not to close it at the end of the year.

About 100 miners had blockaded themselves in a chamber 370 meters (1,200 feet) underground with explosives to demand that the Carbosulcis mine on the island of Sardinia remain open.

"We have decided to abandon the occupation," miner Stefano Meletti said.

Meletti, who made headlines last week when he slashed his wrist on television during a news conference in the mine, said workers were ready to take further "strong action" if their demands were not satisfied.

After a meeting with local and regional government representatives on Friday, the Industry Ministry said the mine, which employs 500 people, would not close and authorities would review a project to update it "to make it compatible with the latest technology and make it economically sustainable".

The occupation became a symbol of Italy's struggling industrial sector and prompted President Giorgio Napolitano to express his sympathy for the miners as Prime Minister Mario Monti's technocrat government strives to boost the economy during its final months in power.

At the end of July, the Industry Ministry was mediating in 131 other disputes between companies seeking to cut jobs and unions trying to preserve them, according to a ministry document obtained by Reuters. With more than 163,000 jobs at stake, Rome is likely to see more protests in coming months.

The future of an Alcoa aluminum plant in Sardinia is another of the disputes the ministry is mediating. Alcoa began shutting production on Saturday, threatening hundreds of jobs in a region hard-hit by recession and with an unemployment rate of 15 percent.

Alcoa workers are going to be in Rome on September 10, when company management meets unions, the ministry and a possible buyer, Switzerland's Glencore, who said last week it was weighing a possible takeover of the plant.

The Carbosulcis mine, which was estimated to have 600 million metric tonnes of coal reserves in 2006 but has struggled to stay financially viable, supplies coal for an electricity plant run by energy giant Enel.

The mine, controlled by the regional government, was occupied in 1995 when protesting workers stayed in a tunnel for 100 days.

(Additional reporting by Francesca Piscioneri and Steve Scherer; Editing by Alison Williams)