PARIS (Reuters) - French president Francois Hollande called on Alcatel-Lucent on Tuesday to save as many jobs as possible in France after the telecoms equipment maker said it plans to cut 10,000 jobs worldwide, about 14 percent of its entire workforce.
The announcement by the Franco-American group, which plans to cut as many as 900 posts in France, was criticised by Hollande’s government which is having to battle with record levels of unemployment across the country.
“In the framework of the decisions to be taken, the restructuring plan, it should be examined how the job cuts can be limited as much as possible,” Hollande told reporters in the central town of Saint-Etienne, where he was promoting government efforts to cut unemployment.
Other government officials acknowledged measures were needed to save the group in which France has a 3 percent stake.
Alcatel-Lucent said the job cuts represented its last chance to turn itself around and stem losses.
The product of a 2006 transatlantic merger aimed at creating a global giant, Alcatel-Lucent told a European works council meeting it intends to axe nearly one in seven of its employees.
“Everyone knows this plan is the last chance. The company is in a very serious situation,” Chief Executive Michel Combes, the latest of three CEOs since the merger, told Le Monde newspaper.
The group plans to focus on high-growth areas ranging from 4G mobile to high-speed broadband, and to lower fixed costs by more than 15 percent, saving a total of 1 billion euros ($1.36 billion).
Including past measures, the total cost of the “shift plan” is 1.2 billion euros, an amount the company expects to fund through asset sales.
Alcatel’s share price rose 2 percent after the news but closed down 4 percent at 2.71 euros as the government’s opposition to its plans intensified. The stock has almost tripled in value this year on buyers’ hopes that Combes, a former chief executive of Vodafone Europe, can rescue the business.
“The group is eating up a lot of cash and is unable to enhance its profitability, so some kind of change was needed to make sure it has a long-term future,” said one Paris-based financial analyst who declined to be named.
The group, which employs 72,000 staff worldwide and competes with larger rivals Ericsson of Sweden, China’s Huawei and Finland’s Nokia, has posted five straight quarters of net losses.
Altogether, 4,100 posts will go in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, 3,800 in Asia Pacific, and 2,100 in the Americas.
France’s CFDT union said it would fight a plan that entailed cuts to about 15,000 posts, although 5,000 new jobs will be created, giving the overall loss of 10,000. Nine hundred jobs would go in France, with the closure or disposal of five sites.
“The CFDT is aware of the seriousness of the situation and deplores this,” it said in a statement. “But once again it is the staff that are paying the price ... We will fight this plan and make proposals to change it.”
The union said Alcatel was planning to close its sites in the French cities of Rennes and Toulouse quickly, and sell its Eu, Ormes and Orvault sites by the end of 2015.
France’s left-leaning industry minister Arnaud Montebourg Montebourg, who has led a campaign for French consumers and companies to buy home-grown products, said the loss of hundreds of French jobs was “excessive.”
He called on the country’s network providers to help the firm by favouring its products over those of cheaper rivals, and asked Alcatel-Lucent to review its cost-cutting plans with trade unions.
“We have asked management to revise the restructuring plan downwards,” he told parliament. “We can’t keep on paying the price of their errors.”
But other sources in President Francois Hollande’s Socialist government, which has watched Alcatel-Lucent’s problems closely as it battles rising unemployment in France, emphasised that the plan was an attempt to get the group growing.
The Alcatel-Lucent merger was an attempt to pool resources but any savings were lost due to fierce price competition in the sector and as slow economies, particularly in Europe, dented demand for telecom equipment.
Last year the group swung to a net loss of 1.2 billion euros - the biggest since 2008 - largely due to a writedown on its mobile unit and restructuring costs from an earlier plan to lay off 5,000 workers.
The restructuring will heighten speculation of a possible approach by Nokia, a move which sources close to the matter said last month the Finnish group was discussing internally.
Alcatel-Lucent confirmed it would dedicate 85 percent of its research and development budget in 2015 to next-generation technologies, up from 65 percent today. Spending on older technologies would be cut by 60 percent.
The group has a long history of innovation, for example pioneering the DSL technology that has brought quick Internet to millions through standard copper telephone lines.
However, it has been slower to trim its costs than rivals such as Nokia Siemens Networks, which cut around a quarter of its workforce some two years ago.
($1 = 0.7368 euros)
Additional reporting by Julien Ponthus, Yann Le Guernigou and Elizabeth Pineau; Writing by Mark John; Editing by James Regan, Anna Willard and Greg Mahlich