British mobile phone plant axed

Difficult times in the mobile phone sector mean redundancy for hundreds of UK workers

At least 350 workers are facing redundancy after Japanese manufacturer Matsushita announced it was planning to close a mobile phone factory in Thatcham, Berkshire.

Matsushita, which owns the Panasonic brand, blamed the slump in the mobile phone market for the decision. The plant is expected to close at the end of the year, although a design team will continue to be employed at the site.

This is a sad day," said managing director Masahiko Yamamoto, who explained that the worsening conditions in the global economic market were one reason for the move. "External pressures such as the downturn in the European market for mobile phones coupled with unfavourable exchange rates has led to this regrettable decision," he said.

Matsushita is understood to be looking for vacancies within the rest of its UK operations to offer to those employees affected by the Thatcham closure.

Union officials have reacted angrily to the news, and accused Matsushita of shifting production to the Czech Republic. Sir Ken Young, the general secretary of the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union, demanded that the government take action to prevent such job losses.

The job losses follow the closure earlier this year of a Motorola factory in Scotland. This plant was shut despite the intervention of Prime Minister Tony Blair, with the loss of over 3,000 jobs.

At the beginning of 2001, many technology firms forecast that there could be an upturn in the market by the end of the year. Matsushita's announcement indicated that things are unlikely to improve in the very near future -- as was already obvious from the fact that many firms or analysts are refusing to make clear forecasts for 2002.

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