Nokia factory closure spells lights out for workers in Cluj

Three years ago, Nokia announced it would close a factory in the German city of Bochum to move to a cheaper facility outside Cluj, Romania. Now, the factory in Cluj is set to be closed at the end of the year.Bogdan Colceriu steps off a bus in the Romanian city of Cluj and into a crisp October morning. The sun is up, and it will be warm later in the day, but for now Colceriu’s breath forms clouds around his mouth when he speaks.

“I’ve been expecting this to happen since March,” says the 25-year-old, who has just come from a 12-hour night shift on an assembly line.

“That’s when the company began sending employees on unpaid holidays, and when the manager started telling us not to come to work because there was nothing to do.”

The workers’ bus network was part of the factory infrastructure
Colceriu is referring to the news that he and the rest of the 2,200 employees at the Nokia production facility outside of Cluj received a few weeks ago, that the factory would be closed by the end of the year.

“There was a meeting organized in a tent behind the factory at 10 o’clock in the morning,” he said of the day he and his co-workers got the bad news. “No one entered the factory that day.”

Early departure

When Nokia opened the factory in Jucu, about 20 kilometers (12 miles) outside of Cluj, in 2008 it was a stroke of good luck for the community. A large, international company had come and created jobs. To help facilitate the move, the local government made investments into infrastructure projects before the factory opened.

The exact details of the contract Nokia signed with the county have so far remained confidential, but the county council is in negotiations with Nokia to see if there is any way to get back some of the money invested in infrastructure, since Nokia is leaving earlier than expected.

The day it was announced that the factory would be closed, the mayor of Cluj, Sorin Apostu, released a statement making it clear the city had held up its end of the bargain.

“I want to assure the Cluj citizens that this radical decision was not motivated by the conditions created here for the company,” he wrote, “but by the mobile equipments production market dynamics worldwide.”

A familiar situation

A similar scene played out three years earlier in the western German city of Bochum. In 2008, Nokia announced a plant closure there in order to move production to Cluj, arguing that labor costs in Germany were 10 times higher than in Romania.

Nokia says demand for basic phones in Europe has dropped
Now, Cluj’s production will be absorbed by existing plants in Asia, where Nokia sees more of a market for the basic phones that it used to produce in Europe. The 2,200 jobs that will be lost in Cluj are about the same number that were lost in Bochum.

Back then, to help ease the blow, Nokia took part in a program called Growth for Bochum.

“The Growth for Bochum project was [a joint program] between the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, the city of Bochum and Nokia,” said Benjamin Lampe, head of communications at Nokia Germany. “It was about attracting companies and bringing jobs to the city of Bochum. So far it’s been very successful, and I think all three participants are happy with the outcome.”

Lampe says negotiations are under way between Nokia, local officials in Cluj and employee representatives to see if a similar program can be established in Romania, but it’s too early to speculate on the outcome.

He adds that Nokia’s focus in its entire European market is shifting from mobile phone production to research and development.

Lights out

Nokia has agreed to pay its employees three months’ salary after the plant closes. Beyond that, however, Bogdan Colceriu isn’t expecting much help.

Bogdan Colceriu doesn’t have many night shifts left
He thinks he’ll have no trouble landing on his feet – he works two other jobs and is confident he’ll find something after the Nokia factory closes – but he chalks that up to his young age and broad range of qualifications. He fears not everyone will be so lucky at the factory.

“Younger people are sure that they will find a new job,” says Colceriu, “which is not the case of the older people who are close to retirement age. For them, the chance of professional requalification is reduced.”

At the very least, says Colceriu as he walks through the chilly morning back to his apartment for some much needed rest, when the Nokia factory finally shuts its doors at the end of the year, he won’t have to work any more night shifts.

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