Hundreds of employees of one of Switzerland's leading mobile phone operators have been protesting over job redundancies announced last month.This content was published on February 23, 2003 - 12:10
Some 200 handed in a petition to the Federal Communications Office on Monday to demand better working conditions and adequate redundancy payoffs.
Protesters called off a five-day strike on Monday to give the authorities time to react to their demands.
They have threatened to walk out again on Friday, if their demands are not acted upon.
Orange, a subsidiary of France Telecom, announced in January that a weak economy was forcing it to close one of its call centres, leading to 200 redundancies.
The closure would also force a further 225 jobs to re-locate to Biel, which has outraged a number of employees.
Protestors say they have been treated unfairly and complain that the company's social plan does not cover their needs.
Trade unions, for their part, have demanded a new round of negotiations with Orange's management.
The head of Orange Switzerland, Andreas Wetter, told the "Samstagsrundschau", a German-language news programme, that the strike was not necessarily beneficial for the negotiations.
Pulling the plug
The layoffs were prompted by France Telecom's announcement that it would stop subsidising its heavily indebted Swiss subsidiary.
France Telecom is itself a heavily subsidised company. "France Telecom owes its survival to the financial support of the French government," says Michel Crétier, an analyst at the Geneva-based Pictet bank.
He added that he agreed with Orange's decision to cut jobs. "This move was in line with France Telecom's policies," he said.
Like many companies in the telecommunications sector Orange has been hit hard by heavy debt burdens due to the astronomical sums operators paid for third generation licenses.
High mobile phone penetration has also increased competition among telecommunications operators as they fight to win over a dwindling number of new customers.
Last month, Switzerland's leading telecommunications operator, Swisscom, announced it would shed over 1,000 jobs in an effort to remain competitive.
Crétier said that the current restructuring by Swiss mobile phone operators does not mean that Switzerland is an unattractive market.
“The Swiss customers use their mobile phones more often than their European neighbours and there are only three providers [Swisscom, Sunrise, Orange] on the market,” he said.
swissinfo, Jean-Didier Revoin (translated by Billi Bierling)
Orange is the second-biggest mobile phone operator in Europe.
It serves 40 million people in more than 30 countries.
Orange Switzerland employs almost 1,700 people and serves nearly one million customers.
France Télécom took over Orange in 2000.