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Workers suspend metal factory strike

Is the end of the labour dispute now in sight? Keystone

Workers have voted to break off their strike at a metal foundry in northwestern Switzerland, after accepting conditions for mediation talks.

This content was published on February 23, 2006 - 17:18

A spokesman said the employees expected to return to their jobs at the Swissmetal factory in Reconvilier on Monday, ending a walkout that has lasted a month.

Employees on Thursday voted on the conditions, which had been hammered out by Swissmetal bosses and the trade union, Unia, under the eye of government-appointed mediator Rolf Bloch.

Talks between the two sides are expected to begin on Monday.

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

Unclear

However, the fate of 21 managers at the Reconvilier plant dismissed last week by Swissmetal for failing to turn up at the company headquarters remains unclear.

Attempts earlier this week to bring the conflict parties to the negotiating table suffered a setback when the Swissmetal chief executive, Martin Hellweg, stated it would be realistic to start work without the 21 managers.

He added that their duties had already been redistributed within the Swissmetal group.

Unia condemned the statements, saying that it had called for the future of the managers to be included in the mediation talks.

However, Bloch said the mediation meeting would include discussions on the managers. He added that the other redundancies would also be on hold during the talks and that they would be part of the meeting's agenda.

Restructuring

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

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.

Strikers have accused Swissmetal of reneging on an agreement reached last November over the company's restructuring plans.

The workers and staff at the Reconvilier factory staged a major ten-day strike in 2004 in a bid to force the company to keep the foundry open. They also demanded that 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

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 the Reconvilier plant.
February 23, 2006: Workers agree to go back to work on February 27.

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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, in canton Solothurn. 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.

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