Richemont Offers to Scale Back Plan to Cut Watchmaking Jobs

  • Luxury-goods maker willing to reduce cuts to 170 positions
  • Union demands more concessions ahead of meeting Thursday

Richemont offered to reduce a job-cut plan by about 20 percent, though worker representatives still demanded more concessions from the Swiss luxury-goods maker as they protested near the headquarters of its Piaget and Vacheron Constantin brands.

Richemont is willing to reduce the number of jobs it plans to eliminate at the Swiss watchmakers to about 170 from 210, the company said Tuesday, which was the original deadline for an agreement. The company said it would extend talks and the Unia union said they’d meet again Thursday to try to improve conditions in the plan after a “constructive” meeting Tuesday afternoon.

“They put peanuts on the table, and we think they can do better,” Alessandro Pelizzari, a representative of the Unia labor union, said in an interview. The union is insisting that Richemont resorts to reduced working hours instead of outright job cuts, he added.

After Switzerland produced more than 500 million timepieces to feed booming demand over the past two decades, watchmakers are now in retreat. Swiss watch exports had the biggest monthly drop in seven years in October, with plunging demand in almost every major market. In response, Richemont chairman Johann Rupert has overhauled senior management, abolishing the CEO position and naming new executives to lead watchmaking and operations.

Piaget and Vacheron Constantin employees rejected Richemont’s plan Monday, with 65 percent of votes against, according to a statement from the company, whose full name is Cie. Financiere Richemont SA. Turnout was 32 percent of a combined workforce of 1,352 people.

Talks with the Unia and Syna unions will center on improving measures to help employees who are most impacted in terms of finding jobs, Serge Hauert, a human resource director at Richemont, said in an e-mailed statement.

Shares of Richemont fell 0.1 percent to 66.60 francs in Zurich. They’ve dropped about 12 percent in the past year.

“This is a historic time for us in watchmaking, it’s the first time we’re going to the streets,” said Antonio Di Marino, a 56-year-old mechanic who joined more than 100 workers to protest in Plan-les-Ouates, a town near Geneva. “We’re all scared. We know that whole industry isn’t going well, so where would we go?”

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