Govt names mediator in Molex factory standoff

France's industry minister, Christian Estrosi, has named a public mediator to help unblock an increasingly bitter standoff between management and workers at the Molex car parts plant in the southern town of Villemur-sur-Tarn.


France’s industry minister, Christian Estrosi, has appointed a mediator to help find a way out of an ongoing conflict opposing workers and management at the US-owned Molex car parts plant in the French town of Villemur-sur-Tarn.


Francis Latarche, who was in charge of employment and labour relations in the southern department of Haute-Garonne between April 2005 and May 2007, has been asked to “renew constructive dialogue to elaborate positive solutions” to the increasingly bitter standoff between management and trade unions.


His arrival in the Molex dispute comes against a backdrop of spectacular "bossnappings" and union lockouts.


'Illegal' closure


Molex workers contest the legitimacy of the plants’ closure, arguing that it is prompted by financial interests rather than dictated by the economic downturn. On May 20, a court in Toulouse ruled that the company had not provided workers' representatives with “fair and comprehensive” information on the company’s health. Management was ordered to suspend the plant's closure.


The company decided to temporarily close the plant on August 5 after an incident in which a director was physically confronted by workers. Although a court in Toulouse ruled that the closure was illegal, the plant’s US directors refused to reopen the site “until the safety of its personnel and equipment is guaranteed". Last April, two of the plant’s managers were held hostage in their officesfor 48 hours by furious workers.


On Thursday, however, Estrosi obtained assurances that union representatives woul be allowed to ente the site. In a statement, Molex said it hoped a mediator would enable talks to resume “in a calmer manner”.


'Cautious optimism'


Molex workers greeted Latarche’s nomination with “cautious optimism”, one union activist told AFP. “If it gives workers a way to resume dialogue then it’s good, as long as the dialogue leads to a solution that preserves production in France”, CGT union representative Guy Pavan told Reuters.


Yet, FO union representative Thierry Bonhoure told Reuters he feared Latarche would not be able to push for a takeover of the plant that would preserve jobs because “Molex seems firmly set on its decision not to sell”. On August 4, the company announced it was suspending early negotiations with a potential buyer, adding that it planned to remain in the European market and would therefore not sell the plant.


Workers at the plant are resting their last hopes on Latarche's mediation and on an August 25 meeting between France's industry minister and the president of the Molex group, Martin Slark.


As things stand, the plant in Villemur-sur-Tarn will close definitively in late October, forcing 283 people out of work.

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