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Workers protest at Italy steel mill facing closure
by Staff Writers
Rome (AFP) Sept 26, 2012

Workers staged a new protest Wednesday against the proposed shuttering of the ILVA steel mill in southern Italy, which has been accused of generating massive pollution and causing high cancer rates.

Protesters climbed a blast furnace and occupied a 60-metre (almost 200 feet) high platform at the mill, the largest in Europe, in the latest twist in a saga that has divided the poor city of Taranto between those calling to protect the environment and those begging to save local jobs.

The new protest was organised after a rumour circulated among workers that a court was about to issue an order closing the mill's most polluting sections.

Judge Patrizia Todisco ruled in July that the mill -- owned by the Riva Group, one of Europe's largest steel producers -- posed a health risk, based on studies finding that cancer rates in the area were 15 to 30 percent above average from 1995 to 2002.

Management at ILVA appealed the decision, enabling the mill to continue production, but Todisco issued a ruling Wednesday rejecting management's proposal to invest 400 million euros ($520 million) to modernise the plant, saying ILVA had already promised to carry out the same overhaul in 2003-2004.

"There is no room for proposals made on the cheap. The stakes -- health, life and the environment, but also the right to a dignified job that does not carry health risks -- do not allow for any haggling," wrote the judge in her decision, as quoted by the website of La Repubblica newspaper.

ILVA management can still appeal the ruling, and for now the mill will not automatically close.

Environment Minister Corrado Clini has said Italy will lose out to competitors in Europe and China if it suspends operations at the mill.

Last month thousands of ILVA workers marched in Taranto asking for their jobs to be saved.

Two of Italy's main labour unions called for a strike at ILVA from Thursday at 0700 GMT to Friday at 0500 GMT to protest the proposed suspension.

"Stopping production means destroying workers' hopes and future. We must find common ground between respecting the environment and citizens' right to health and work," the FIM and UILM unions said in a joint statement.


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