Fiat says 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$26bn) into its Italian operations but is coming up against some union reluctance to undertake new working practices.

At a meeting today (28 July) in Rome called by the Italian government for the manufacturer and its labour organisations to thrash out their differences, Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne spelt out a stark message.

"Marchionne reiterated the company's commitment to the Fabbrica Italia plan," a Fiat spokesman in Turin told just-auto. "This says basically Italy is at a crossroads and needs to modernise.

"He [also] said there is no point in discussing this - it is either a yes or a no. The time for talking is over."

The spokesman added there would be a meeting of the main Fiat unions tomorrow - although without the most consistently vocal and hostile labour organisation FIOM.

Part of Fiat's plan could potentially see a radical new way of working at its contentious Pomigliano d'Arco plant near Naples. "We have said the Pomigliano agreement will proceed and the Panda will built there but we need the security of knowing production of this car will not be disrupted by a small amount of people," added the Fiat spokesman.

"Marchionne does not expect a few people to put sticks in the spokes out of spite."

To this end, Fiat is mulling the possibility of creating a new company to own Pomigliano with the assets of the plant put into it.

"You fire all the workforce and the new company re-employs them under new working conditions," he said. "Our Melfi plant is the same thing - we created a new company called SATA."

The spokesman stressed the Pomigliano idea was only "one possible idea" and was not a final decision. "This is one way of ensuring we don't have silly little strikes that disrupt production," he added.

However, a FIOM spokesman in Rome said the union would attend the meeting's first half tomorrow in Turin, but not the second part to discuss Pomigliano.