Motorola layoffs spark protest

Motorola Mobility Holdings Inc employees in Nanjing and Beijing have protested against the decision by its owner Google Inc on Monday to reduce the workforce by 20 per cent.

Google, which took charge of the cellphone manufacturer last year for US$12.5 billion(S$15.7) announced on Monday it will slash 4,000 jobs globally.

On Thursday, about 100 staff from its Nanjing center, waved banners outside the building to protest against Google's "illegal layoffs", pledging to fight any cutbacks at the site.

The next day, more than 200 employees holding similar banners gathered in front of Motorola's Beijing office to protest against the company's downsizing plans.

A staff member from Motorola's Nanjing Software Center, who asked to remain anonymous, said that official layoff notices and details of compensation packages are expected to be released on Monday or Tuesday.

"Any layoffs will place a huge burden on workers and their families," the woman said. "If all the people are fired at the same time, it'll be hard for them to find a job because the demand for software engineers in Nanjing is limited."

The Nanjing site is the largest of three branches set up by Motorola's China Software Center.

It has more than 500 software engineers, 62 per cent of which are reported to have master's degrees.

Some Chinese media have reported that more than 1,000 staff could be cut from the company's Beijing and Nanjing research and development sites.

Si Xuanjun, Motorola Mobility's China public relations manager, said the numbers were inaccurate.

Staff at Motorola's Beijing offices were quoted on Friday by ifeng.com, as saying that the company said it planned to start negotiations, but that human resources officials had told them if they refuse to agree to the terms being offered, contracts would be terminated.

The report also claimed the company's trade union has already agreed to the staff cuts, without talking to the workforce.

"Motorola knows that the changes will be difficult to accept for employees, so the company will provide generous compensation and commit to provide outplacement services to help them find new jobs," said a company statement.

Feng Xiliang, a labor expert at the Capital University of Economics and Business in Beijing, said enterprises are allowed to cut employment due to business performance reasons but that they have to inform trade unions and local labor authorities first if they cut more than 10 per cent of the headcount.

"The employer should sit down with employees to negotiate any employment reduction and the compensation before an agreement is signed," he said,

"Although trade unions can represent workers, it's not appropriate for them to sign a deal with the employer without discussing it with the workforce.

"Under labor contract law, any jobs cuts proposed by an employer should be carried out in negotiation with the workers," said Feng.

The main aim of the staff cuts is to increase the company's competitiveness in the Chinese market, said Dennis Woodside, Motorola chief executive officer - who previously led Google's sales and operations in the Americas - in an interview with The New York Times.

He said that Motorola Mobility will stop making low-end devices and focus on making star products.

Si Xuanjun had said on Monday that the job cuts will inevitably affect its Chinese operations, as traditional cellphone makers continue to struggle against smartphone makers such as Apple Inc and Samsung.

Nokia Siemens Networks, the world's fourth-largest telecom gear maker, has already announced it will lay off around 300 employees in China this year.

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