‘Painful and difficult’ decision as 140 jobs lost

Report by John O’Connor

In a move that stunned workers at its Cork Road plant, Hasbro Ireland announced yesterday that the company was making 140 employees redundant and implementing changes to existing work-practices and organisational procedures.

Management said the changes were necessary for the Waterford plant’s survival as it faced increasing competition from lower-cost, overseas locations, including China.

Managing director, Pat Gilhooly, described the decision to shed the jobs as ‘painful and difficult’ but insisted the redundancies were unavoidable if the remaining 300 permanent jobs at the plant were to be preserved.

‘If we can work together with employees and other stakeholders to quickly achieve the efficiencies proposed in the restructuring programme, it will go a long way towards ensuring the future of the Waterford plant’, said Mr. Gilhooly.

The company has been manufacturing toys and games in Waterford for almost 30 years but, in recent times, there has been a decline in the plant’s overall workload. A loss of competitiveness, due to steep increases in costs in Ireland over recent years, is part of the problem. The situation has also been exacerbated by the ever increasing technological capabilities of Hasbro’s suppliers in China.

Mr. Gilhooly said he hoped the majority of the redundancies would be a voluntary basis and management had begun communicating and consulting with the employees about implementing all elements of the plan.

New investment

In addition to the redundancies, the company also announced plans for new investment in its games and puzzles manufacturing plant in Waterford to ensure its competitiveness in a challenging global manufacturing environment.

‘The three key elements of the proposed restructuring programme, getting our headcount right, reorganisation and changes to existing work practices and securing an investment programme, will, we believe, allow us to continue to play to our strengths as the strategic location from which we supply the European market’, said Mr. Gilhooly. Hasbro, at corporate level, remained committed to Waterford and would support the plant with further investment as part the restructuring plan, he added.

Hasbro Ireland has been a major employer in Waterford since 1977. With over 250,000 sq ft of manufacturing space, the production processes range from plastic injection moulding, thermoforming, printing, board and paper conversion processes, box-making and high-speed assembly. Product is shipped from Waterford to all major European markets and Hasbro Ireland is the biggest manufacturer of games in Europe.

Mayor demands government action

The Mayor of Waterford, Councillor Cha O’Neill, has called for urgent government action following the announcement of the job losses, pointing out that the Hasbro redundancies were only the latest in a series to have hit workers in Waterford.

‘We have had a steady, drip-drip of job losses right through 2006 from companies large and small, all coming after very heavy cuts at Waterford Crystal in recent years. This latest jobs blow comes at a particularly unfortunate time of year for the Hasbro workers who are now left facing an uncertain future.

‘Our first thoughts today are obviously with them and their families and it is to be hoped that a generous a severance package will be available so that the redundancies are voluntary insofar as possible. In addition, no effort should be spared in safeguarding the remaining 300 jobs.

‘Waterford still relies heavily on multinational manufacturing industries and, with costs in this country now making Ireland an expensive place to do business, the reality is that we can expect further job cuts and closures as labour-intensive work migrates to low-cost locations.

‘What I want to hear from the Government is how exactly they propose responding to this. We had some positive news recently about Servier establishing a pharmaceuticals manufacturing site at the industrial development zone near Waterford Container Terminal in Belview but the 115 jobs to be created there will come over a seven year period and don’t even match the number of jobs being lost at Hasbro alone’, he declared.

University needed more than ever

Mayor O’Neill said the job losses reinforced the case being made to re-designate Waterford Institute of Technology as a University for the South East as such a move would ‘raise the entire region up a gear’.

He said one of the key arguments for having a university in a region like the South East, with its population of over 460,000 people, was that it could help up-skill the workforce and reduce our damaging reliance on foreign direct investment and, specifically, in manufacturing. As well as the direct economic boost a university would deliver, it would also be a powerful catalyst for entrepreneurship in the region and offer a base for emerging companies that could create sustainable 21st Century employment.

‘I would defy any member of the Government to give a rational explanation today for why the South East should continue, despite lower than average incomes and over-reliance on manufacturing and agriculture employment, to be the only region of a similar population in Ireland or Britain that doesn’t have a university. This unfair situation has been allowed to continue in a country awash with money and where Waterford’s peer cities, Limerick, Cork, Galway and Dublin, all have extensive higher education provision at both Institute of Technology and university level’, concluded Mayor O’Neill.

Cullen committed to job provision

The Minister for Transport, Minister Martin Cullen, TD, said he was committed to finding alternative employment for the workers in Waterford who were to lose their jobs with Hasbro.

‘Hasbro has been a very successful employer in Waterford for almost 30 years and I am disappointed to hear that 140 of its current workforce of 440 in Waterford are being made redundant. This will be a great upset to families living in the area. I am determined to secure additional jobs for the city of Waterford to offset this situation’, he said.

The Minister said he would be meeting his cabinet colleague, the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Micheál Martin, TD, to discuss the situation and to look at creating opportunities for new jobs in the region.

Deputy Brian O’Shea

Labour Party Deputy for Waterford, Brian O’Shea, said the announcement that 140 jobs were to go at the Hasbro factory was a major blow for the city and county, following a series of recent redundancies and closures in traditional employers in the area.

‘First and foremost, my thoughts are with these 140 employees and their families. No time is good to be made redundant, but, as we approach Christmas, this is surely the worst time of year possible. The immediate priority must be that these employees find alternative jobs at the earliest opportunity. Yet, this task is made all the more difficult by the spate of recent closures that have taken place in Waterford in recent times.

‘The closure of Waterford Crystal in Dungarvan and job losses at its plant in the city, the closure of the Kilmeaden cheese factory and imminent losses at NTL together mean that Waterford is haemorrhaging jobs at an alarmingrate. It is demoralising and depressing for local people to see employers such as Hasbro that have been in the area for 30 years cutting back drastically.

‘Moreover these redundancies are typical of what is happening in the Irish manufacturing sector. The Hasbro factory was responsible for the manufacture of children’s toys, yet cheaper costs in China are cited as the main reason for today’s restructuring. Increasingly, Irish manufacturing is losing out to the far East, Eastern Europe and Central America. I would appeal to the government to devise new strategies to save this traditional industry before more communities suffer the fate that Waterford has recently experienced’, concluded Deputy O’Shea.

Cllr. Roche

Councillor Mary Roche described the job losses a ‘a dreadful, pre-Christmas blow’ to the workers. But, she said, we had long been warned that manufacturing jobs in this country were in jeopardy because of low-cost competition from Asian countries. The public could not blame Hasbro for wanting to be competitive and she sincerely hoped the company and the rest of its jobs would remain for a long time to come.

‘However’, continued Councillor Roche, ‘it does underline, once again, the fact that Waterford is over-reliant on manufacturing jobs. Waterford does not have as many high-tech jobs as other cities in Ireland. Job creation here over the past decade has been abysmal in many sectors when compared with other cities. In fact on almost any measurement scale, Waterford and the South East fares worse than other cities and other Regions.’

‘And yet, the Government still refuses to give us the one tool that would allow us, over the next decade, to rectify many of those imbalances; namely a University. And I make no apologies to people who are sick of me banging on this University drum. This, make no mistake about it is the one issue that, if delivered, could change the profile of Waterford and the South East for us and for our children in a way that would put us right back up there with cities of status – where we deserve to be’, she concluded.

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