Fiat says a month-long strike by car transporter workers is pushing the Italian auto sector to "breaking point" as the manufacturer's own unions continue to militate on labour reforms.

The automaker is reporting the situation is rapidly worsening with vehicles being set on fire and non-striking drivers threatened with violence if they do not participate in the walk-out, while hardline union FIOM says its own members have been prevented from taking industrial action due to their compatriot's blockade.

The extraordinary development where those wishing to strike are being stopped from doing so by another truck drivers' strike, highlights the chronic industrial relations situation in Italy, where the new government is desperately trying to push through labour reforms in a bid to tame the country's ruinous debt mountain.

The hardline FIOM union says its members - up to 80% in some cases - have walked out this week in protest at labour reforms but many remain at home today as the transporter strike continues to wreak havoc at several Fiat plants.

"Here in Italy there is something very important for Fiat and this is the so-called truck strike," a FIOM spokesman told just-auto from Italy. "The little entrepreneur who maybe owns one, two, three trucks, they are on strike. Many Fiat [plants] are not working.

"This is not a workers' struggle - this is a struggle between one big company and many little companies. But the consequence is many Fiat plants are not working, so Fiat members can't strike. They are at home so they can't do any strike."

The car transporter dispute has continued for more than a month now "with violence and burning of vehicles," says Fiat, whose Group Automobiles plants in Italy have been severely affected.

Substantial delays in deliveries to dealers and customers are having a major impact on shipments and sales in both Italy and abroad, while what Fiat refers to as "major financial losses" have occurred, affecting market share.

Further production stoppages are planned next week at the Cassino plant (27-29 March 27) and the Giambattista Vico site in Pomigliano d'Arco (26-27 March), where the new Panda, currently being launched across Europe, is produced.

"There are no signs of an end to this situation," said a Fiat statement. "Rather, it appears to be worsening with numerous incidents of violence including setting fire to vehicles, as well as threats and aggression toward drivers not participating in the strike.

"As a result of the economic damage caused by this industrial action, the automotive sector in Italy, which has already suffered significantly from market conditions, is being pushed to breaking point."