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France arrests British boss for flash sackings

EVRY, France, Feb 24 (AFP) – The president of a bankrupt British fibre-optic cable company Paul Welch was being held for questioning by French police Tuesday after he dismissed 15 workers and removed equipment from a factory south of Paris, police said.

On Friday staff at the OCT plant in Dourdan, 40 kilometres (25 miles) southwest of the capital, arrived to find the building emptied of machinery and a note telling them that their employment was terminated.

At the headquarters of Optical Cable Technology Ltd in Maidstone, southeast England, a spokesman said the company had ceased trading on Friday because it was unable to meet its debts and all workers worldwide had been made redundant. Offices in France, Britain and Singapore have closed.

“The UK had invested heavily in the Dourdan operation for a number of years – sadly and understandably, the UK could not continue with this investment,” read a statement issued via the Insolvency Advisory Service Limited which was called in to assist staff in any claims against the company.

“We see the closure of the company as a great loss for the people of Dourdan as well as Europe as a whole,” it said. OCT Ltd bought the Dourdan plant in 2002.

The statement said that part payment of future compensation claims would be made at a meeting with French staff Wednesday. “This payment is being made upon the insistence of the British directors in order to help the French employees,” it said.

Jean-Michel Montanuy, the company’s French sales director who is himself a minority share-holder, earlier told AFP he had also been sacked. “The work contracts were not changed (when the factory was bought), so French law must apply. It is a real hold-up,” Montanuy said.

“This is the ultra-liberal Anglo-Saxon universe, where there is no labour law and there is no respect for the workers. These are the methods of yobs,” said Dourdan’s Socialist mayor Yves Tavernier.

In the face of local anger, junior industry minister Nicole Fontaine went to Dourdan Monday and said “the government will take steps to ensure that those responsible are punished as necessary.”

“I have come to show my indignation and anger at this indescribably brutal action,” Fontaine said on Monday. The British embassy in Paris said it was contacting the government in London on her behalf.

Under French labour laws toughened in 2002 under then then-Socialist government, a company laying off staff for economic reasons has to notify its employees and regional authorities well in advance, provide a significant pay-out per employee and prepare paperwork for the French unemployment office.


                                                              Subject: France news