A GLOBAL healthcare firm is moving one of its Irish manufacturing lines to Thailand, where companies can hire 15 workers for the price of one here.
Covidien sent shockwaves through its 1,500-strong Irish workforce when it revealed that the manufacturing of medical devices known as basic endo-tracheal tubes will be shifted from Athlone to Thailand over the next two years.
While the firm would not yet say how many jobs would be affected, the manfacturing line earmarked for closure by 2014 is in Covidien's Athlone plant and is staffed by between 120-150 people.
A total of 600 staff are based at that plant, and the company said yesterday it was seeking early retirements among all the staff at that factory.
The plant, on the outskirts of the town, has been in Athlone for 29 years and it's understood that there is a significant number of staff interested in voluntary redundancies because they are due to retire shortly.
Covidien employs a total of 1,500 people in Galway, Athlone, Tullamore and Dublin.
A technical worker in Ireland who is paid €60,000 can be replaced in Thailand by up to 15 workers on the average industrial wage of just under €4,000 a year.
The Irish Independent has learnt from another leading American firm which employs staff in Ireland and Thailand that the maximum it pays technical staff in Asia is around €6,000 a year.
SIPTU met with management in Athlone yesterday to discuss the job cuts -- and was given re-assurances that no staff would be laid off before next summer.
The company issued a statement outlining how the Athlone factory would "continue to be an important part of Covidien". It said it had a "strong manufacturing operations track record and a vital R&D function".
But the move is cold comfort to workers on other Covidien manufacturing lines who are concerned about their futures.
The devices moving to Thailand are labour-intensive and vice-president of manufacturing Donal Balfe said there was "strong competition" as customers were under "price pressure" in the current climate.
SIPTU official Frank Jones said the cuts came as a "shock". "There are a lot of unknowns at the moment. We're concerned about how much the redundancy will be."
Meanwhile, Shannon-based technology support company Sykes is to seek 75 job cuts.
The recent loss of a contract with Sony, one of the American company's principal clients, is understood to be behind the decision to shed jobs.
Based there for the last 20 years, it is expected to enter talks with employees next week. In 2009, 100 staff were laid off.
However, the booming hi-tech sector will receive a further boost today as internet giant Google announces a significant new investment.
The firm -- whose European, Middle East and Africa headquarters are located on Barrow Street, Dublin -- earlier this month confirmed it had vacancies for people skilled in a variety of European languages.