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Union criticises Gateway closures

With Gateway about to negotiate with a newly elected workers council, there are concerns that employees could get a raw deal
Written by Graeme Wearden, Contributor

Unions have offered to assist workers who are facing redundancy following Gateway's withdrawal from the UK and Ireland, amid concerns that laid-off employees could receive a meagre payoff.

The Irish Services, Industrial, Professional and Technical (SIPTU) union has announced that it is prepared to offer its advice and experience to the 900 Gateway employees who work at the company's factory in Dublin and other Irish facilities. Like many high-tech firms, Gateway does not formally recognise a union, and it will instead negotiate with representatives from the workforce, as required under EU law.

Under statutory redundancy regulation, the only compensation due to each employee is half a week's pay per year of service for each employee under 41 years, and a full week's pay per year for those over 41. This is much less than SIPTU would like. "If we were involved, we would be looking for a package of six weeks pay per year of service," SIPTU spokeswoman Barbara Kelly explained.

Kelly points out that many of the workers will not have many years of service at the factory, which only opened seven years ago.

Gateway did not respond to requests for comment.

SITPU's chairman Jack Nash is angered by the factory closure, and the lack of union representation at Gateway. "This is yet another example of workers in the high tech industry being abandoned by a faceless employer, and although the management at Gateway had never been willing to accept a union to represent its employees it doesn't mean the workers were not in need of proper representation," Nash said.

Under EU law, a company must recognise a union if more than half of the eligible staff join it. This is not the case at Gateway's plant, and reports have claimed that the company deliberately obstructed union attempts to recruit new members. A Gateway spokeswoman said yesterday that the company would carry on dealing directly with employees, as well as facilitating the representative council.

As well as offering the assistance of its industrial relations staff, SITPU will also give workers the chance to use the services of its "redundancy outreach and crisis support facility", which it runs through the Irish Trade Union Trust.

The eight-strong employee representative body was only elected last week, leading to concerns that it could lack the experience needed to negotiate with a multinational firm. "They'll be meeting to plan their own demise," a source close to the dispute told ZDNet. The consultation period will take between 30 and 90 days.

US computer manufacturer Gateway announced late on Wednesday that it was considering closing its factory in Dublin, and its sales, service and marketing units throughout the UK and Ireland, leading to the loss of up to 1,000 jobs. Sales of Gateway computers throughout Europe are thought to have fallen 46 percent in the second quarter of this year -- a time in which the whole sector felt the pain of the current tech slump.

Although unions aren't happy about the fact that many high-tech firms often refuse to deal with them, it's a situation they increasingly find themselves in. When Motorola announced the closure of its factory in Bathgate, Scotland, last April, it refused to talk to any union officials. In contrast, Ericsson has been praised for its positive approach towards unions, which some claim means that its employees will enjoy more help when things go wrong.

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