ROME Troubled Italian steel group ILVA may have to place as many as 8,000 workers on a special temporary redundancy scheme if steel seized as part of an environmental damage case is not released soon, union sources said on Wednesday.
The union sources said Bruno Ferrante, head of the ILVA plant in the southern Italian city of Taranto, had told them that 7,000 to 8,000 workers could be put into a special "cassa integrazione", or a wages guarantee fund, if the steel is not released.
The wages guarantee fund allows companies to send workers home on reduced pay during periods of crisis while their wages and social insurance contributions are paid by the INPS, Italy's national welfare agency.
ILVA has been fighting for its existence since judges ordered it to stop operations last year following evidence that emissions of dioxin and other cancer-causing chemicals had caused abnormal levels of tumors in the Taranto region.
The huge ILVA site employs some 12,000 workers directly, while another 8,000 jobs depend indirectly on the site, the biggest steel plant in Europe and one of the biggest industrial employers in the poor and underdeveloped south of Italy.
Judges last year ordered 1 billion euros worth of steel and steel products to be seized as part of the investigation, which includes accusations that the company's management paid bribes to cover up evidence of environmental harm caused by the plant.
They are currently engaged in a battle with the government, which has tried to have the steel released, and the case has been referred to the Constitutional court for a ruling expected next month.
(Reporting Vincenzo Damiani; writing by James Mackenzie; editing by Gunna Dickson)