Union will fight to save UK mobile jobs

Workers must hope that Ericsson's 'historically good relationship' with unions will save them from the chop

Union leaders will meet with Swedish mobile phone firm Ericsson early next week in an attempt to save UK workers from compulsory redundancy.

Bob Shannon, national officer of the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union (AEEU), will lead the formal discussions with Ericsson, which on Friday announced that it was axing 12,000 jobs worldwide. The company blames slower growth in the telecommunications market for the cutbacks, but hasn't yet announced how many UK jobs will be affected. Ericsson has around 1,500 employees in the UK.

The AEEU has a "single-member agreement" with Ericsson, meaning that it is officially recognised by the mobile phone giant and is able to discuss a range of issues including pay, health and safely and, at least in principle, matters of company strategy. The union's main objective, now that Ericsson has revealed the extent of the cuts, is to try and ensure that no British workers are forced out.

"The first thing we will do is attempt to clarify the current situation and see how the UK business fits into Ericsson's global jigsaw. The priority then is to avoid compulsory redundancies and plant shutdowns," a spokesman for the AEEU explained.

Following earlier job cuts in this country from other high-tech firms such as Compaq and Marconi, the AEEU accepts that this is a difficult time for the technology sector, but it has not lost hope. "Ways can often be found to cope with short-term problems," said the AEEU spokesman.

And it seems that while Ericsson has attracted criticism from analysts for its falling share of the mobile phone market, the company isn't too unpopular in union circles. "We have found that the attitude of Ericsson has historically been very constructive. They're prepared to have a dialogue with us," said the AEEU spokesman.

Ericsson's good relations with the AEEU are in stark contrast to the policy of rival handset manufacturer Motorola, which does not recognise trade unions in this country. According to several trade unions this is a particular problem when jobs could be at risk, as is the case with Motorola's factory in Bathgate.

"When companies announce big job cuts, but don't say where they will take place, it creates a climate of fear in local communities. It's much harder for a union to operate on behalf of workers if it isn't recognised," explained a spokesman for the Transport and General Workers Union. The AEEU agrees. "Motorola's stance is a source of great frustration to us," admitted the AEEU spokesman.

It is expected to take two weeks before Ericsson reveals the jobs that are to go.

Since outsourcing its phone manufacturing business to Singapore-based Flextronics earlier this year, Ericsson only directly employs 1,500 people in the UK -- these employees are mostly involved with research, sales and marketing. It isn't yet clear whether they will be victims of the cuts.

Ericsson has announced that it is axing 2,000 jobs from its consumer products division as well as 10,000 white collar jobs, but a company spokeswoman explained that it was too early to say the extent to which the UK will be affected.

She also revealed that two British factories which were previously reported to be closing later this year could yet be saved. "We're still looking for a buyer for the plants, and talks are in progress," she explained.

The two factories, which employ a total of 1,200 people, are in Carlton, West Midlands and Scunthorpe in Yorkshire.

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