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French Caterpillar workers release bosses after promise to talk

Article published on the 2009-04-01 Latest update 2009-04-01 13:57 TU

Nicolas Polutnik (L), director of Caterpillar France, sits in his office inside a Caterpillar factory in Grenoble on Tuesday(Photo: Reuters)

Nicolas Polutnik (L), director of Caterpillar France, sits in his office inside a Caterpillar factory in Grenoble on Tuesday
(Photo: Reuters)

The committee of trade unions leading strikers at the French division of industrial equipment-maker Caterpillar have freed four bosses whom they had locked in their offices for more than 24 hours in protest at the announcement of 733 layoffs. About 400 workers booed and shouted "Resign!" as the bosses drove out of the plant.

Five members of Caterpillar France management, including country director Nicolas Poutnik, were bossnapped on Tuesday at the site in Grenoble in the French Alps. One was released after a few hours for  health reasons.

Unions agreed to let them go after the company agreed to negotiate compensation for laid-off workers, which they say was not on offer when the redundancies were announced.

They also won a promise to meet President Nicolas Sarkozy, whom they called on to intervene to help them.

US-owned Caterpillar is slashing 25,000 jobs worldwide. In February its French division announced the loss of 733 jobs at two sites in Grenoble, where 2,800 people currently work. Unions say that 85 per cent of the workforce were already on short-time working.

"I will save the site, I will meet the union committee since they have called on me to help them ... and we won't let them down," Sarkozy told Europe 1 radio.

On Wednesday unions called for European Union funds to be provided to help the company and hope that Sarkozy will raise their fate with US President Barack Obama at this week's G20 meeting in London.

They say that management has agreed to pay them for some of the time workers have been laid off and for the three days they have been on strike. The company's European and US headquarters will be involved in further negotiations, according to union representatives.

In the present economic climate, which has led to several other bossnappings in France this year, Sarkozy refrained from criticising the workers' style of industrial action. Also on Tuesday, police forced employees of the luxury brand PPR to free their boss, François-Henri Pinault, after they had trapped him in a taxi for nearly an hour.