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FEARS are growing for the long-term future of almost 600 employees at medical devices plant Covidien in Athlone. The US-owned firm is to transfer the manufacturing line for one of its products there to Thailand.

A spokesperson for Covidien, which operates the plant in Athlone, said negotiations on voluntary redundancies had started with its workforce.

The main focus will be on the future of 100 workers presently making the respiratory aid devices and where they will be employed in future.

The company said that the changeover will happen over a two-year period, but Covidien says it has made a strong commitment to the future of its research and development centre of excellence in Athlone.

Covidien manufactures its respiratory aid products in Athlone, but after what it described as a lot of pressure in the market, it is now moving that manufacturing line to Thailand.

The company said that it will be looking to bring new products there.

Unions representing staff will meet the company today.