ROME ― Workers at Italy’s F-35 fighter jet assembly line canceled a planned strike for April 24 following guarantees that more of them will be given staff contracts by Italian firm Leonardo.

The workers at Cameri Air Base in northern Italy, where Leonardo is assembling jets for Italy and Holland, previously announced a one-day strike to protest what they described as the widespread use of employment agency contractors.

But the strike was suspended as the firm made an offer to take on 80 staff, said Sergio Busca, a representative of the UILM union at the site.

“It was not easy to speak about strike action since this is a strategic site, but we felt compelled to do it,” Busca said.

Unions have said 600 staff at Cameri are working on agency contracts, while only 270 are employed directly by Leonardo, which runs the site in partnership with Lockheed Martin. Leonardo has said 520 staff are on agency contracts.

At a staff meeting held Monday ahead of the planned strike, a decision was taken to postpone the walkout in order to hear Leonardo’s proposals at a meeting scheduled on Tuesday, the day of the strike.

“Leonardo had previously promised to hire 150 of the contract workers, but only took on 70 in 2016. At the meeting they said they would hire the other 80 by June,” Busca explained. “There will be another meeting on May 28 when Leonardo will tell us about further hirings. As a result, the strike was suspended.”

A Leonardo spokesman said the offer to hire workers was not forced by the strike action but was part of an existing plan, which would see a string of new hires up until autumn 2018.

He defended the use of agency staff, stating: “The system means we can train up the expert workers we need and then hire them full time.”

Cameri has to date delivered nine F-35As to the Italian Air Force, while in January the first F-35B to be assembled outside the U.S., which is destined to fly with the Italian Navy, was handed over to Italy at Cameri.

Italy is currently due to purchase 60 F-35As and 30 F-35Bs, while Cameri is also due to assemble 29 F-35As for the Royal Netherlands Air Force.

In 2014, the 101-acre site at Cameri was named by the U.S. Defense Department as its F-35 heavy airframe maintenance, repair, Overhaul and upgrade facility for the European region.

Tom Kington is the Italy correspondent for Defense News.

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