Italian ministers have apparently waded into the seemingly endless Mirafiori negotiations surrounding Fiat and its unions, that look as if they could take a decisive turn by the end of this week.

With Christmas falling this Saturday, speculation has centred on the possibility Fiat is anxious to wrap up talks surrounding its plant in northern Italy before the festive break that will see many workers not return before early January next year.

The Fiom union - traditionally the labour body that has consistently taken the hardest line with its employers - claims the minister of labour affairs expressed the hope a deal could be reached concerning the interminable negotiations that have spawned acres of Italian newsprint.

Fiat went through something similar to Mirafiori earlier this year with its restructuring at the Pomigliano d'Arco plant near Naples fiercely resisted by Fiom.

Only last month, the union noted: "We are afraid Fiat is planning about working conditions to build at Mirafiori a new agreement concerning working conditions, which will be very similar to that of Pomigliano. As we were against the Pomigliano agreement, this will be very difficult for us."

However, despite those reservations, the manufacturer seems to be taking a hard line with its Italian operations, going through its portfolio apparently plant by plant in order to drive what it insists are essential productivity improvements.

It's not entirely clear just what Fiat is asking of its Mirafiori workforce, but it's a fair bet to assume it involves something similar to the Pomigliano efficiencies, against which Fiom took such a stance earlier this year.

Indeed, Fiat has said unless it secures agreement with its unions for restructuring, its massive investment plans in Italy will be at risk. The automaker plans to plough EUR20bn (US$26.3bn) into its Italian operations as part of its Fabbrica Italia plan.

Most of Fiat's bewildering collection of unions seem ready to sue for peace, but Fiom, as it has done so often this year, is expressing doubts as to any new deal.

The Fil and Uil unions met the Italian organisation of metal industries - Federmeccanica - yesterday in Rome - but Fiom declined to attend.

Marchionne has made no bones about his frustration concerning the awkward squad of labour bodies - and this is certainly not the first time Fiom has set itself four-square against the management.

But in a bid for harmony, Italian Minister of Labour and Social Policy, Maurizio Sacconi, recently made an impassioned plea for all sides to work together:

"The investment envisaged for Fiat Mirafiori is so important for the future of workers, land, the entire group and the Italian economy to warrant the resumption of dialogue between the parties," he said.

And then tellingly: "This requires the abandonment of all prejudices and rigid formalism of all by all to seek what unites them in the name of work and enterprise."

Instead of sulking on the sidelines, will Fiom join its more moderate colleagues and engage in dialogue? Will it "abandon all prejudices" as Sacconi is urging?

There's a fair bit at stake here. Fiat is evaluating a new platform from the US in a joint venture with Chrysler for large segment passenger cars and SUVs for the Jeep and Alfa Romeo brands.  It has also dangled the carrot of extra jobs being created to produce up to 280,000 models per year.

Melfi, Pomigliano, Termini Imerese and now Mirafiori have all been battlefields on which Fiom has planted its standard. The year's end may be a convenient timetable to hasten talks, but Fiom should come in from the cold.