January 22, 2008 / 5:46 PM / in 10 years

Thousands voice anger over Nokia's Germany plans

BOCHUM, Germany, Jan 22 (Reuters) - Around 15,000 workers and labour officials took to the streets of Bochum on Tuesday, voicing their anger over the closure of a Nokia plant in the hope of forcing the Finnish company to rethink its plans.

Local and federal politicians as well as the head of Germany's industrial union IG Metall appealed to Nokia to revise its plans, which would put some 2,300 workers out of a job.

"There is no excuse for disgraceful and inhuman behaviour," IG Metall metalworkers union head Berthold Huber said, calling the plans "Wild West capitalism".

Nokia Chief Executive Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo told German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung he did not expect to learn anything new that would make it reverse its decision to close the plant, which he said accounts for 6 percent of output but 23 percent of personnel costs.

Nokia NOK1V.HE said last week it would close the plant in the western city of Bochum because it was not competitive and would move production to Romania. The closure drew heavy political criticism ahead of state elections.

Bochum is an economically depressed region that has lost its historic mining and steelmaking industries.

The protests echoed demonstrations that took place three years ago when staff at carmaker Opel, owned by General Motors, successfully stopped the closing of their plant. Nokia is the second biggest employer in the region after Opel.

A Nokia spokesman said the company would seek ways to cushion the blow for staff laid off. "This will include packages for the staff and Nokia is willing to consider other support activities to staff and to the city."

According to a representative of the state government, Nokia had not yet scheduled further talks.

Little Hope to Save Plant

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who discussed Nokia's plans and expressed her concern in a call with Kallasvuo on Monday, told a radio interviewer she saw scant chance to save the plant.

"If Nokia's decision cannot be revised -- and signs seem to point in that direction -- everything needs to be done to give those people affected some prospects," she said.

Merkel said she did not think it necessary to abolish subsidies for companies, citing formerly communist eastern German states' ability to lure firms with state support.

Some politicians argue Nokia should repay German subsidies it received in the 1990s, but other officials have noted the company has invested much more than it received.

Germany, the world's biggest goods exporter since 2003, has seen its telecommunications sector hit hard in recent years. In 2006, 3,000 workers lost their jobs when BenQ Mobile (2352.TW) declared bankruptcy, a year after it bought Siemens AG's (SIEGn.DE) cellphone unit.

Germany, Europe's largest economy, is Nokia's fifth-largest market, with net sales of 2.06 billion euros ($3 billion) in 2006. Some union leaders in Germany have called for a boycott of Nokia goods and senior politicians have joined in the attack. (Editing by Paul Bolding)

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