Government meeting

Bruno Vitali, of the Fim-Cisl union, issued the same warning on Monday.

According to the Italian Association of the Automotive Industry, there are 275,000 people in Italy employed by the car industry.

Last week Fiat, the country's largest private-sector employer, reported a 70 per cent drop in its fourth-quarter profits, and said it expected demand to drop a further 20 percent in 2009.

The government has said it will open talks this week on possible aid for the auto sector.

Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister, has called for a meeting on Wednesday with industry officials to discuss the crisis.