I thank you for allowing me to raise this very important local issue. The announcement by Melchert Electronics Limited that due to a downturn in business, coupled with the negative effect of exchange rate problems, they have been forced to make a number of workers redundant was greeted with great disappointment and concern by both the workforce and the people of Listowel and North Kerry. It is expected that the number of redundancies will be in the region of 35. However, I am fearful that there may be more job losses if the Government do not initiate an emergency relief programme to retain the maximum possible number of jobs in the factory.
These job losses are a shattering blow to the economy of Listowel and its hinterland. Listowel is already a black spot for unemployment. Last week 1,900 people signed on for unemployment assistance and unemployment benefit at the employment exchange; 700 of these are living within a six-mile radius of Listowel. The loss of these full-time jobs will add further to the existing gloom and with the approach of Christmas it is a harsh body blow to the families involved.
Melchert Electronics Limited was established in Listowel in 1977 and commenced production of single-sided printed circuit boards with a workforce of ten people in July of that year. This had grown to 40 people by the end of 1977. In 1985 a major extension was provided and in 1987 Melchert became part of Krupp Atlas Electronics Group. In 1991 the workforce was 156 and turnover was in excess of £5.6 million. The workforce now stand at 148.
Melchert Electronics has been a great and consistent employer over the years, with an excellent industrial relations record. It has always been a highly regarded employer and has had a major impact on the economic life of Listowel and North Kerry. Melchert manufacture customised printed circuit boards for all segments of the electronics industry. It exports 48 per cent of PCBs to the United Kingdom. Because of the decline in the value of sterling it has lost a considerable amount of money in the UK market. The whole electronics industry is going through a bad patch.
If Melchert Electronics is to have a viable future in the very competitive field of printed circuit board production, it needs to upgrade its technology. However, there are no grants available for re-equipment from the IDA, following the decision by the Government to withdraw grants for upgrading equipment. I call on the Minister to reverse that decision and to restore grants for the modern technology required. It is imperative that the Minister should provide assistance for Melchert Electronics from the market development fund of £50 million established by the Government recently to assist firms which have been seriously affected by the recent turmoil in exchange rates. The dramatic fall in the value of sterling since mid-September has caused immense difficulties for Melchert Electronics.
In order to avoid further redundancies and secure existing jobs it is vital that the Minister accept the application from Melchert management for a market development grant. He should also make every facility available to them to ensure the survival of their company and workforce.