ITALY - Alitalia, the troubled Italian airline, has almost halved its annual contribution to its staff pension schemes in a bid to “get away from the quicksand”, a union official says.

The biggest Italian carrier will pay five percent rather than nine percent of the staff annual wages in its three pension schemes, said Marco Veneziani, national secretary for air transport at trade union Uil.

Veneziani represents one of the three biggest unions in the country at the ongoing negotiations between company management and trade unions.

He said the cuts to Previvolo, the fund for pilots, Fondav, for flight attendants, and Fipa for ground personnel, will be implemented from 2005.

An Alitalia pilot himself, Veneziani said he hoped the last stage of talks regarding flight assistants, due to terminate today, will close negotiations and seal the talks.

“The situation is of course very serious, especially when one thinks that the company has not enough money to pay for October wages.”

“But with all these measures we are putting in place, at great cost and sacrifice for the workforce, we should be able to get away from the quick-sand.”

As many as 2,500 Alitalia workers are very likely to lose their jobs as a consequence of the talks between management and the trade unions, including Uil, Cgil and Cisl.

The Italian deputy prime minister, Gianfranco Fini, was reported as saying that there could be aid for workers made redundant when a deal with the unions is sealed.

Welfare Minister Roberto Maroni, in the meantime, had dismissed the report that troubled companies, including Alitalia, would be exempted from paying the 32.7% tax-free bonus for workers who decide to keep working after pension age.

The ‘super-bonus’, consisting of the contributions paid to the national pension fund, Inps, will be paid until the end of 2007 and will cease with the implementation of the new pension reform, in 2008.

Maroni should sign the decree launching the super-bonus next week.