Motorola to suspend mobile phone production

Lack of demand blamed for two-week stoppage at Motorola's Scotland factory next month

Mobile phone maker Motorola is planning to suspend handset manufacturing for two weeks at its mobile phone factory in Scotland.

The company is blaming disappointing sales of mobile phones this year for the decision. All shopfloor workers at the factory at Bathgate will take a holiday between Monday 9 and Friday 20 April, with shifts being moved back to the end of this year.

Motorola is one of the largest employers in Scotland, with over 6,500 employees in its three plants there. In October 1999, the company announced plans to recruit an extra 1,000 employees at Bathgate, to meet the increasing worldwide demand for mobile phones. Bathgate is a key mobile phone manufacturing plant and led the worldwide introduction of what at the time was the world's smallest and lightest dualband GSM phone, the V3688, and the world's first truly global phone, the GSM triband L7089.

Derek Milne, communications and public affairs spokesman for Motorola, claimed that the workforce was happy about the suspension. "No money will be lost by any members of staff. Employees are pleased that they'll have time off over the Easter break," he said.

However, Milne's claim has been disputed by a spokesman for one of the UK's unions. "I know that the staff are concerned about the situation at Motorola," said the spokesman.

Milne denied rumours leaked to ZDNet UK that Motorola had, or was about to, impose a two-day week at the plant. "That simply isn't true," he insisted.

Workers at Motorola have faced an uncertain future since the company announced last week that it might make a loss in the first quarter of 2001. It warned that an economic slowdown in America was hitting sales of handsets, and that it would respond by taking "additional cost reduction steps".

Motorola is already carrying out a consultation process over the future of its factory in Swindon, which employs 1,600 workers.

Assistant general secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union Jimmy Elsby is concerned that Motorola might soon cut jobs in Scotland. "If jobs losses are announced, it would not only be a blow to the local communities directly affected, but could also have a serious spin-off effect on a range of other firms," he said, speaking at the Labour Party's Spring Conference in Glasgow earlier this month.

Elsby claimed that IT companies such as Motorola could respond to difficult economic conditions by imposing worse working conditions. "We have seen a tendency for firms in the IT sector to outsource work, use employment agency staff on day-to-day contracts and, as in the case of Motorola, increase shift duration with the consequential effect that this has on workplace stress and health and safety generally," he warned.

Motorola is not the only mobile company facing concerns over a slowdown in the mobile phone market. Rival Ericsson recently announced that it was to stop making handsets, and analysts have predicted that other firms could follow this lead.

However, Milne was upbeat about the future of the Livingston factory. "Production is going to ramp up towards the end of this year, when we'll be making new models for the Christmas rush," he said.

At the GSM World conference this month, Motorola announced plans to release five new GPRS handsets, which will allow mobile users to keep a constant link to the Internet, and faster connection speeds.

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