Irish Job Losses Continue to Mount

The New Year brought Ireland's most severe jobs crisis in several decades, with the giant Dell organization switching its entire computer manufacturing operation from Limerick to Poland, Waterford Wedgwood going into receivership, and Tara Mines under severe pressure. Limerick reeled last week as its largest employer, Dell, announced it was laying off 1,900 workers over the next year as it moves manufacturing to a new plant at Lodz in Poland as part of a massive global cost-cutting operation The company, the largest exporter in the Republic, also said that about 1,500 jobs in firms which directly supply the plant are at risk. Local business leaders claimed the knock-on effects could affect up to 7,000 jobs in other industries. The blow to the mid west came despite a pre-Christmas bid by Tanaiste (deputy prime minister) Mary Coughlan, who is also minister for enterprise, trade and employment, and Defense Minister Willie O'Dea to save the jobs. The pair had flown to Dell's Austin, Texas, headquarters but failed to persuade Dell CEO Michael Dell and senior managers to change their plan. O'Dea, who represents Limerick in the Dail (Parliament), faced a backlash from opposition TDs (members of Parliament) over the failure to save the jobs. But he claimed that the industrial development authority, IDA Ireland, was working on a plan to provide up to 750 alternative jobs at Dell in the near future. But IDA chief executive Barry O'Leary said it was too early to confirm any such development. "I think one would want to be very, very specific about that and we wouldn't be in a position to confirm that at this point in time," he said. Although the jobs losses were well-signaled for a number of months, there was still widespread shock among workers, as well as anger at the terms of the redundancy deal. Thomas McNamara, 28, a father of one, told The Irish Times, "There are plenty of people here with big mortgages, cars, young families - there are a lot of upset people." Workers who lost their jobs will receive six weeks' pay for every year worked, capped at 52 weeks, or around €25,000 to €30,000 for long-service workers. Bonus pay and overtime will not be included. Dell will continue to employ 1,000 staff in Limerick in logistics and product development, and another 1,300 at a sales and support operation in Cherrywood, Co. Dublin. Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Brian Cowen described the transfer of manufacturing to Poland as "a major disappointment." He said it was a blow to workers and their families across the region, but he emphasized that the firm remained a very significant employer. He said government officials will meet executives from Dell to see what way Ireland can fit into the company's future strategy. "We have to build now. At the next phase of Dell's development as a company, we must see to what extent can we help to locate further investment in Ireland," Cowen added. Meanwhile, the office of EU competition commissioner Neelie Kroes is examining whether a €50 million payment by the Polish government to Dell for a new production facility in the country represents legitimate regional development aid. There was New Year bad news, also, for up to 2,700 workers in Ireland and Britain when luxury firm Waterford Wedgwood was put into receivership. Trading in its shares on the Irish Stock Exchange was suspended after the company, famous for its crystal and china products, failed to find a buyer amid the global financial crisis. If a buyer isn't found all jobs are in jeopardy. David Carson, a partner in Deloitte Ireland, was appointed receiver of the Irish operations of Waterford Wedgwood, which employs 800 people at its crystal-making factory at Kilbarry Industrial Estate in Waterford city. A number of the group's companies in the U.K. were also placed in administration. Carson confirmed that Waterford Wedgwood will continue to trade. He said he would continue with efforts to sell the company as a going concern. Sir Anthony O'Reilly, who also owns the Independent Newspapers group, stepped down as non-executive chairman of Waterford Wedgwood. He said the board had acted tirelessly in its efforts to resolve the company's issues as a going concern and the principal shareholders had invested in support of the business for almost 20 years. Trade union leaders said the mood among employees was one of shock and dismay as workers had begun to believe that a buyer would be found and their jobs would be saved. One union official said, "It's come as a real bolt out of the blue to the workers. It's a real horror story for them." In County Meath, management and union officials at Tara Mines are in talks aimed at saving 670 jobs at Europe's largest zinc mine near Navan. Tara Mines produces around 200,000 tons of zinc and a further 40,000 tons of lead every year. Last month miners were asked to radically reform work practices, with the company seeking to limit hours and bonuses as it battles the effect of low zinc prices and a weak dollar. Tara is paid in dollars for its zinc but incurs costs in euro, so the weakening of the dollar caused problems for the company.

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