Nortel Networks offices and installations in Canada and around the world were placed under vigilant security watch after French employees seeking better layoff terms threatened to blow the network hardware provider’s Chateaufort plant in the Yvelines area some 10 kilometres west of Paris.
Technology analysts who have been following Nortel’s restructuring moves say it is unlikely that Canadian employees of the embattled company would consider that same negotiating strategy. Meanwhile a spokesperson for Nortel in Canada the company’s French management team is meeting with French authorities and union leaders and that Nortel installations around the world are being secured.
“We are advancing in our efforts to find a positive solution to all parties concerned,” said Ryan Saxby Hill, media relations officer for Nortel.
He said the French-based research and development centre for Nortel’s wireless division will remain close for the rest of Wednesday for security reason and will be “reopened as soon as it is practical to do so.”
“Our global security teams are constantly vigilant in their monitoring the safety and security of our sites in Canada and around the globe, and we continue to do so,” he added.
Meanwhile Nokia Siemens Networks (NSN), which is eyeing Nortel’s carrier wireless unit and has entered a “definitive agreement” to purchase the business for US$650 million, remained silent about the Wednesday’s bomb threat. “I’d rather not comment on the situation,” said Susan Schramm, head of marketing and communications for NSN.
On Wednesday morning, workers of the French arm of Nortel threatened to blow up the company’s Chateaufort plant, according to the Reuters news agency.
Reports said gas cylinders were placed in front of the plant where 480 jobs were recently axed following bankruptcy proceedings. The tanks were later found to be empty. This was the second threat by French workers to blow up the Nortel facility in a week. A French car manufacturer that recently laid off workers also received similar threats last Sunday.
The French Nortel workers were indignant over how authorities were handling the company’s bankruptcy proceedings. “We are exasperated by the practices of the administrator. A meeting was planned yesterday, but it was cancelled at the last minute,” the French daily Le Parisien quoted union member as saying on Tuesday.
“It is not the first time. They have been stringing us along for four days. They have no respect for us,” the union member said.
The labour unrest presents another challenge for Nortel, according to Canadian network equipment specialist.
“This adds another layer of woe for Nortel,” said Ronald Pickett, president of RDM TeleManagement Group, a Newmarket, Ont-based consultancy firm that advices clients on network equipment.
He said the labour dispute will complicate restructuring plans and could turn off potential buyers should the Chateaufort plant be up for sale. “Who would want to buy a business that has labour problems? Things would have to be ironed out first.”
Another analyst says Nortel workers in Canada are not likely to resort to the same methods used by their French colleagues.
“The incident in France was not necessarily unexpected when you consider that we’ve seen strong reactions from unions in Europe in the past,” said Mark Tauschek, a senior analyst with the London, Ont-based Info- Tech Research Group Inc.
He said Nortel faces a bleak future. “In the end Nortel will be sold off in pieces and the cease to exist as we know it today.”
Although job loses are a certainty, Tauschek says he doubts if there will be any bomb threats here. “Canadian workers are of a different temperament. They’re not as militant.”
Although the company will eventually be broken up, analysts also say a NSN buy would be the best for Nortel’s wireless workers.