By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — It will be a bleak Christmas for the majority of the 2,700 Fruit of the Loom clothing workers in factories in Donegal and Derry who are to be laid off this Friday until early January amid fears for the long-term future of their jobs.
Some families have up to nine members working with the company and they have been waiting for firm news on the future of the factories since last summer.
There have been continuing reports that the U.S. parent company plans to move a substantial part of their operations to low cost regions such as Morocco and south-east Asia.
The company has plants in Buncrana, Raphoe, Milford and Malin Head in Donegal and at Campsie and Templemore in Derry. A plant in Dungloe was closed earlier this year with the loss of 48 jobs and many of the staff in other plants have been on short-time for the past three months.
The month-long Christmas shutdown was announced to staff in a letter which "anticipated" that full-time work would resume on Jan. 5. The move is reported to result from an excess of T-shirt and other leisure wear stock.
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The company and the IDA have been discussing job cutbacks — which could total about 800 — for several months. Trade union shop stewards said they were deeply concerned about the Christmas layoffs and called on the company to come clean on its corporate plan for the area.
Tanaiste Mary Harney said she had been concerned about the Fruit of the Loom operation since she became minister for enterprise and employment 18 months ago.
She had met chief executive Bill Farley on five occasions, three times at the Chicago headquarters and twice in Dublin.
"I very much regret the continuing uncertainty about the company’s future in Donegal," she said. " I hope shortly that that uncertainty can be put to an end, because the workers need to know whether or not they will have employment in Fruit of the Loom."
Harney said she believed the company would continue to have a substantial operation in Donegal "well into the foreseeable future."
But, Harney said, she is particularly concerned about T-shirt jobs, because they could be made for about a sixth of the cost in Morocco, where the company now has a large factory.