PARIS/TOKYO (Reuters) – The French government is looking into options to try to prevent the closure of a Bridgestone <5108.T> tyre plant in northern France by its Japanese owner, and save jobs, finance minister Bruno Le Maire said on Thursday.
Bridgestone said on Wednesday that it would begin talks to close the factory in Bethune, which employs 863 people, in the face of weak demand for low-profile tyres, its main product.
“Bridgestone took an appalling decision. The method is appalling and the consequences are appalling and we are going to fight,” Le Maire told CNews television.
French President Emmanuel Macron’s government, which has launched a 100-billion-euro ($118 billion) recovery plan to boost growth has made jobs a key priority.
France suffered one of the deepest downturns in Europe in the first half of this year as the government put the country under one of the continent’s strictest lockdowns to contain the coronavirus outbreak.
At the Bethune plant, Bridgestone employee Xavier Davrin was in shock. “I have been working here for 26 years and I had 15 more years to do (until retirement). We were the last ones to be informed (of the closure). It’s a huge blow. I worry about the future,” he said.
Bridgestone’s move was “brutal”, French labour minister Elisabeth Borne and junior economy minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher said in a joint statement issued on Wednesday. The company was to blame for the situation as it had “largely disinvested from the Bethune plant for many years, to the benefit of its other European plants,” they said.
Jean-Luc Ruckebusch, a CGT union representative at the Bethune plant, agreed: “Everything was done by Bridgestone to kill the Bethune plant. We will do everything we can to fight”
French officials have urged the company to look at alternative options for the factory, which has a production capacity of about 17,000 tyres.
“We are going to fight for a production that will be more attractive and review other options,” Le Maire told CNews, adding that the state would also look at ways to “re-industrialise” the plant so that jobs be protected.
Bridgestone spokesman Fusamaro Iijima, in response to Le Maire’s comments on Thursday, said the company would hold negotiations with representatives of local employees.
“We would like to hold talks sincerely and carefully. We aim to do our utmost so that the impact on the local community will be minimised,” Iijima told Reuters.
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(Reporting by Dominique Vidalon Pascal Rossignol; Additional reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka in Tokyo; Editing by Alex Richardson, Alexander Smith and Susan Fenton)