Minister sees Alitalia job losses under 5,000: report

MILAN (Reuters) - Layoffs at Alitalia should be less than 5,000, Italy’s labor minister Maurizio Sacconi told la Repubblica newspaper in an interview published on Saturday.

Air France (L) and Alitalia aircrafts are seen in Paris in this undated handout photo. REUTERS/Air France/Handout

Alitalia sought bankruptcy protection on Friday after nearly two years of hunting for a buyer, paving the way for its rescue by a group of Italian investors in a coup for Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

The labor minister’s estimate of layoffs is lower than reports have suggested for the collapsed airline.

“I hope they will be less” than 5,000, Sacconi said. He added that he could not give a figure for the cost of the layoffs because it would depend on the number and age of people leaving as well as other factors.

Alitalia filed for bankruptcy protection under a revised law that will facilitate the sale of its slots, planes and other usable assets to Italian investors.

The group could also take on about 88 million euros of debt, Il Sole 24 Ore newspaper said on Saturday.

The group is expected to put in as much as 1 billion euros -- well above Alitalia’s last value on the stock market before its shares were suspended from trading.

Sacconi, who will kick off talks with Alitalia's unions on Monday, said it was up to adviser Intesa ISP.MI Sanpaolo, administrator Augusto Fantozzi and the Italian investor group to decide on a deadline for the discussions.

Private companies will be offered incentives to take on workers leaving Alitalia and Sacconi said public sector jobs would only be available on merit.

“Openings in the public sector will be on a competition basis. For the rest, it is up to the private sector,” he said.

The group of investors, led by turnaround expert Roberto Colaninno, is likely to express formally its interest in Alitalia’s assets in the next few days, newspapers reported on Saturday.

Il Messaggero said the offer would be valid for 45 days.

Air France-KLM AIRF.PA, whose own bid to take over the flagship carrier was blocked by unions earlier this year, could invest about 200 million euros, Il Sole 24 Ore newspaper reported on Saturday, giving it a stake of 20 percent.

Corriere della Sera newspaper said Air France-KLM could take 20-25 percent.

Germany's Lufthansa LHAG.DE is also tipped as a possible partner for a revived Alitalia.

Reporting by Jo Winterbottom, Editing by Peter Blackburn