* Company says wants to avoid lay-offs, reassign workers
* Headcount cull part of a push to boost efficiency (Adds company comments, context)
By Dominique Vidalon
PARIS, Jan 26 (Reuters) - Nestle has agreed to another round of job cuts in France, losing as many as 400 positions, as the Swiss food group seeks to cut costs and streamline its business.
The maker of Perrier water and Gerber baby food said on Friday that the job cuts would be in support services and headquarters administration. The new round of lay-offs follows the hundreds of job cuts it announced in September.
Nestle’s efficiency drive dates back to 2014, but has taken on new urgency under the leadership of its new chief executive, Mark Schneider, who is trying to overhaul the company amid pressure from an activist shareholder.
The latest cull follows other high profile job cuts revealed by Carrefour and Peugeot owner PSA since President Emmanuel Macron loosened labour laws.
Nestle in October said its structural savings initiatives were progressing faster than originally planned.
A month earlier, it had announced plans to shed up to 450 of 550 jobs at its Galderma research and development plant near Nice in southern France. The company employs 13,000 people in France and more than 300,000 worldwide.
Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire at the time said he was “shocked” by the decision as the plant benefited from a research tax credit.
A Nestle spokesman said negotiations with unions were underway and that attrition could account for some of the reductions, as Nestle consolidates seven sites around Paris into one by 2020. The company wants to avoid lay-offs where possible, he said.
“At a committee meeting yesterday we presented a plan to transform 400 jobs in support and HQ administration,” the spokesman said.
The reduction in headcount was first reported by Bloomberg, citing a representative of the hard-left CGT labour union. Reuters was unable to reach CGT and Force Ouvriere representatives at Nestle.
Nestle, the world’s biggest packaged food company, has come under pressure from activist investor Daniel Loeb to deliver specific margin targets as well as a faster pace of share buybacks and a reshaped portfolio.
A finance ministry source said he had received no confirmation of the latest job cuts.
Trade union critics of Macron’s labour law reforms say they erode worker rights and make it easier for companies to fire employees. The president, a former investment banker, says they are necessary to win new investment and encourage firms to hire.
Data this week showed that hiring in France’s private sector hit a record high in the fourth quarter of 2017.[ nL8N1PJ47N] (Reporting by Dominique Vidalon; Writing by Richard Lough; Editing by Hugh Lawson)