Firm to review Co Clare operation as dispute continues

 

Hoffman La Roche, the international pharmaceutical company, is reviewing its operation in Clarecastle, Co Clare because of a strike that has halted production there for the past fortnight.

The dispute involves nine compulsory redundancies out of a workforce of 200.

There seemed little prospect of an early resolution yesterday, with both sides claiming there were issues of principle involved. The redundancies have arisen because the Roche group wants to consolidate production of Naproxen (an anti-arthritic drug) in Mexico.

Roche is considering expanding more complex production programmes at Clarecastle, but only if the present dispute is resolved. The company has a reputation for acquiring plants in order to rationalise its operations internationally.

Last year alone it closed seven plants in the group. SIPTU branch secretary Ms Mary O'Donnell says the union is prepared to accept compulsory redundancies on a seniority basis only.

For the Roche production workers' seniority was the only objectively fair way of selecting people to lose their jobs, she added. SIPTU represents the 75 striking production workers at the plant.

The company insists the nine workers concerned are the least qualified or suitable for redeployment within the plant.

The regional director of the Irish Business and Employers Confederation, Mr Declan Grogan, says that SIPTU agreed to abandon the seniority principle when negotiating for redeployment of people within the plant, in order to avert redundancies.

He also points out that the Labour Court has upheld the company's approach to the dispute.

The court recommended payment of an extra ú4,000 to each of the workers affected, in recognition of the fact that they were not going on a voluntary or seniority basis. The company has agreed to this.

The dispute follows a process of job shedding which saw the company reduce its workforce by around 50 people, through a process of redeployment and voluntary redundancies. The redundancy package provides seven weeks pay for each year of service, plus statutory entitlements. The redundancy settlements for the nine workers involved are worth between ú60,000 and ú70,000 net. Last week cheques were posted out to them, but they were returned.

The Clarecastle plant is operated by Roche Ireland and is one of the largest and best paid employments in Co Clare. Average earnings are ú35,000 a year. The payroll is worth ú11 million to the local economy and overall expenditure by Roche Ireland is ú34 million a year.