Fiat said it was "astonished" at the ruling by the Labour Court of Bologna in the case brought against Magneti Marelli by hardline union FIOM and would appeal.

The automaker claimed the judge's decision was "contradictory" because Fiat said it found in the plaintiff's favour and also questioned the constitutionality of Article 19 of the Workers' Statute.

That Article 19 - whose legitimacy Fiat maintained had been confirmed by the Constitutional Court on several occasions - states union representation within a company is limited to unions that are signatories to the labour agreements in effect for that company.

Fiat claimed FIOM was not a signatory to the Magneti Marelli agreement and, as such, the absence of union rights was not dependent on any choice made by the company, but "rather the  unequivocal will of law expressed very clearly in Article 19 of the Workers' Statute", a Fiat statement said.

"It is worth bearing in mind the Court of Turin has recognised as legitimate the
collective labour agreement applied at Magneti Marelli and signed by all other trade
unions. The company will immediately appeal the ruling of the Labour Court of Bologna."

Not surprisingly, FIOM took a different view, hailing the court's decision that recognised the union.

"It's the fifth time in five different courts [that] Fiat is convicted for anti-union actions against FIOM, its members and its representatives," said FIOM secretary general, Maurizio Landini.

"It shows the new contract imposed by Fiat - rather than for production reasons, economic and organisational - is intended to exclude the most representative union in the sector and to limit trade union rights of individuals."