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Swissmetal sacks top staff amid strike

The strike continues despite warnings by Swissmetal bosses

(Keystone)

A strike at a metal factory in northwestern Switzerland has escalated after the company dismissed 21 managers at its Reconvilier plant.

The strikers continued to stay away from work on Monday while moves were underway by a government-appointed mediator to break the deadlock.

Swissmetal said the 21 senior staff members had been sacked because they failed to turn up for work on Monday despite repeated calls by the company.

Only four staff members reported for work, said a company spokeswoman.

On Saturday the head of the company's board of directors, Friedrich Sauerländer, said the strikers faced the sack if they ignored the warning.

Trade union Unia said it was shocked that those concerned had learned of the job losses via the media. It said lawyers were looking into challenging the dismissals.

Spokesman Nico Lutz said that the decision called into question the mediation measures initiated by the economics ministry last week.

Mediation

The mediator, Rolf Bloch, has been meeting all sides in the conflict to find ways of ending the industrial action, now in its 20th day.

The strike was called in protest against plans to close the Reconvilier foundry, with the possible loss of 120 jobs.

Swissmetal wants to concentrate its activities at another site in a neighbouring region, but keep a factory manufacturing wires and rods at Reconvilier.

Over the weekend the unions organised a demonstration in the village attended by more than 10,000 people in support of strikers at the factory.

Strikes and protests of this kind are unusual in Switzerland.

Escalation

The situation came to a head after Swissmetal announced that an "accelerated headcount reduction" of 120 positions would take place over the next two to three months.

They also announced the re-acquisition of a former subsidiary, Busch-Jaeger in Germany, which carries out similar work to Reconvilier.

The strikers have accused Swissmetal of reneging on an agreement reached after last November over the company restructuring plans.

The workers and staff at the Reconvilier factory staged a major ten-day strike in 2004 in a bid force the company to keep the foundry open. They also demanded the company's chief executive, Martin Hellweg, step down.

In all, 350 people are employed by the Swissmetal at Reconvilier, a village in the French-speaking Jura region.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

Swissmetal manufactures high-quality products from copper and copper alloys. It clients are in the electronics, telecommunications, aviation, automotive, stationery and watch industries.

It intends to consolidate its activities between the sites at Reconvilier and Dornach. Reconvilier is to concentrate on manufacturing premium wires and rods. Jobs are to be cut.

Reconvilier workers have contested the move. Some of the factory's clients are said to be worried about the loss of the foundry and a rise in unemployment in the region.

end of infobox

Key facts

January 25, 2006: Reconvilier workers strike for a second time over management's restructuring plans.
February 9, 2006: Management announces an "accelerated headcount reduction" of 120 positions. Swiss economics ministry nominates a mediator.
February 10, 2006: Swissmetal announces the acquisition of former subsidiary Busch-Jaeger in Germany.
February 13, 2006: Swissmetal sacks 21 members of the management at Reconvilier plant.

end of infobox

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