Elf shelves redundancy plan

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In late July 1999, workers at Elf Exploration Production in France, who had been on strike for over three months, were informed by the company's management that the redundancy plan proposing major job cuts had been shelved.

Following strike action lasting just over 100 days, on 24 July 1999 the management of Elf, the French-based petrochemicals group, officially abandoned the "performance plan" it had proposed for its Elf Exploration Production subsidiary, which would have meant the loss of 1,320 jobs, mainly in Paris and the Béarn region around Pau, had been shelved (FR9906195N). The management climb-down, at a time when the strike movement seemed to be losing momentum, came as a somewhat unexpected victory for the CFDT, CFE-CGC, CFTC, CGT and CGT-FO trade unions, which were acting as a united bloc in this dispute.

According to the group's chief executive, Philippe Jaffré, the management's change of heart is warranted by the new situation arising from Elf Group's share-exchange offer to the Franco-Belgian oil company TotalFina, and the accompanying industrial plan. Elf management, which had been subject to a "hostile" share-exchange offer from the TotalFina group since 5 July, made a counter share-exchange offer, designed to create and develop two industrial concerns that would eventually become independent. One would operate in the oil exploration, production, refining and distribution sector and the other in basic, industrial and fine chemistry. The scale of what was at stake for Elf management encouraged it to find a quick solution to the industrial unrest within the group, thus enabling it to prepare for the deadlines to be met at the stock exchange and on financial markets.

With the back-to-work call having been voted on and accepted by workers, the unions will now turn their attention to the careful study of each of the proposed industrial plans to accompany the merger, so as to be prepared to oppose the project that their study shows to be most against the best interests of workers. At the outset, out of a total workforce of 150,000, TotalFina's and Elf's plans envisage 4,000 and 6,000 redundancies respectively, of which 2,000 are earmarked for France. The recent victory by unions and workers at Elf Exploration Production therefore represents only a respite in an industry which is experiencing not only an uncertain climate but also a major move towards concentration, with recent mergers such as those of BP with Amoco and Exxon with Mobil.

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