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Italy's biggest metalworkers union, Fiom-CGIL, announced Friday it had collected enough signatures to call for a referendum on the new labor contract employed by Fiat SpA (F.MI, FIATY) at its factories and those of its sister companies.
The Fiom-CGIL is the only union to have refused to accept the contract, which came into effect Jan. 1, and is fighting to have it repealed.
Fiat had demanded that the unions accept the contract, arguing that it needed to change the working conditions at its factories in Italy to improve productivity.
It also threatened to stop investing billions of euros for the modernization of the factories if they rejected it.
The Fiom-CGIL collected about 19,000 signatures, surpassing the 16,000 minimum required to seek a referendum, according to a union spokesman, confirming comments made by Fiom-CGIL leaders at a news conference held earlier in the day in Turin, Fiat's hometown.
The number represents about 20% of workers at Fiat and Fiat Industrial SpA (FI.MI, FNDSF) in Italy. Fiat Industrial comprises Iveco trucks and CNH Global NV (CNH, NHL.FF) tractors.
The collection of signatures is the latest tactic employed by Fiom-CGIL in its opposition to the contract's terms, which it described as violating workers' rights.
The other unions were quick to dismiss Fiom-CGIL's initiative. Rocco Palombella, secretary general of Uilm, was quoted by the Ansa news agency as describing it as a joke.
Fiat Chief Executive Sergio Marchionne was quoted by Il Sole 24 Ore newspaper as saying he would refuse to hold a referendum on something that workers at three factories already had voted to accept.
Marchionne is also chief executive of Chrysler Group LLC.
-By Gilles Castonguay, Dow Jones Newswires; +39 02 5821-9908; email@example.com