Top medical equipment manufacturer Baxter Malta Limited will lay off 97 of its 600 employees by the end of the year as part of a restructuring programme, which will see many of its production lines moving to Tunisia.

Chris Cardona, the minister for the economy, investment and small enterprise, committed himself to find the redundant workers alternative jobs by the close of 2013.

General Workers’ Union section secretary Jason Deguara said the American company had requested an urgent meeting, which was held yesterday morning.

During the meeting, the union was told the company intends to dismiss 83 production staff and 14 others at management level by the end of the year. The company then held separate meetings with employees to inform them of the decision.

Over the past months, the company has been looking into the possibility of relocating the majority of its production lines to Tunisia due to the lower wages there, resulting in lower unit costs, according to sources.

Mr Deguara said Malta Enterprise and the Ministry for the Economy had been informed of the development, as had the Employment and Training Corporation, which will be brought on board to assist with this mass redundancy.

He said the union and the management would meet again next week to discuss the possibility of saving some jobs, as well as awarding early retirement packages.

The company, a subsidiary of the parent company based in Illinois, manufactures disposal medical products, medical devices, plasma proteins, intravenous solutions and products for peritoneal dialysis.

Mr Cardona said he was informed of the company’s intentions late on Wednesday.

He said the decision was taken by the parent company a few weeks before but had been postponed. He was stepping in to find a solution through meetings with the union, management and staff.

The Government, he said, had already spoken to other companies with a view to finding the workers alter­native employment.

With sales of nearly $10 billion and operations in more than 100 countries, the firm employs some 47,000 workers worldwide.

In Malta, Baxter started operations in 1977 as a joint venture between the Malta Development Corporation and a French group of companies, Dubernard Hospital, under the name of Medical & Hospital Products, manufacturing sterile medical disposable devices for the French market.

Medical & Hospital Products was acquired by Baxter International Inc. and officially changed its name to Baxter Limited (Malta) in 1988.

The Maltese facility now designs, manufactures and supplies a very broad range of sterile, disposable medical devices.

It produces more than 60 million sets annually, 80 per cent of which are sold in Europe.

Mr Deguara said he was also dealing with another mass redundancy at pharmaceutical company Actavis, which intends to lay off 64 workers.

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