Deal reached in Swissmetal strike

Production at Swissmetal in Reconvilier has restarted. Swissmetal

Around 400 Swiss metal workers have ended a ten-day strike. Controversial chief executive Martin Hellweg is to keep his job.

This content was published on November 25, 2004 - 13:12

Union leaders said the strike had been one of the biggest and longest in recent years in Switzerland.

Strikers at the Swissmetal factory in Reconvilier in northwestern Switzerland voted on Thursday in favour of a deal which guarantees the future of the site.

Staff and managers at the factory, angered by plans to restructure the Swissmetal Boillat Group, had been calling for Hellweg to step down.

Hellweg, who remains at the head of the group, will no longer have operational control over the factory. A new site director will be appointed.

François Carrard, head of the board of directors at Swissmetal, told Swiss-French radio that the board considered the end of the strike a "new phase" for Swissmetal.

"The communication procedures must be improved and we are prepared to listen," said Carrard. "I think that the appointment of a site director at Reconvilier will help in this."

Reaching agreement

An agreement was struck late on Wednesday night following talks between staff representatives, unions and the Swissmetal board.

Bruno Schmucki, spokesman for the Unia union, said workers had voted overwhelmingly in favour of the deal in a secret ballot. They returned to work on Thursday afternoon.

Unia said the agreement guaranteed future investment in the Reconvilier factory, as well as negotiations on salaries and improved working conditions.

"We are relieved to have found a way out of a tricky dispute," said union representative Fabienne Blanc-Kühn.

Breakthrough

The group, which manufactures semi-finished copper products, is currently undergoing a restructuring process aimed at integrating the factory in Reconvilier with the group’s other production facility in the town of Dornach.

Workers downed tools, claiming they were having to cope with demands for greater flexibility without being compensated. They say they have not had a pay rise for four years.

The 37-year-old Hellweg was hired in June last year to reshape the heavily-indebted company. Shareholders approved his plan to restructure the group by refinancing it with a capital increase of SFr51.3 million ($44.32 million).

The breakthrough came two days after a member of Bern's cantonal government held separate meetings with both sides in an attempt to break the deadlock.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

The Boillat factory, which specialises in copper-based products, was founded in Reconvilier in 1855.
In 1986, it merged with Dornach and Selve to form the Swissmetal-UMS Swiss Metalworks Holding, which is based in Bern.
The factory at Reconvilier in the Bernese Jura and the one in Dornach, canton Solothurn, employ 400 people each.

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