Adjournment Debate. - South-Western Area Job Losses.

I wish to share my time with Deputies Deenihan and Foley.

Is that satisfactory? Agreed.

The decision by Neodata Services Incorporated to concentrate their data processing business in Boulder, Colorado, has sent shock waves through the communities and the workers in Newcastle West, Kilmallock, Listowel and Limerick City. The two service locations in County Limerick — Kilmallock and Newcastle West — employ 214 workers. They have become an integral part of both communities and have been in existence since the early seventies.

As the workforce is predominantly female with secretarial skills the likelihood of they finding alternative jobs is remote. Many of the employees are married and they are the main source of income in their families. The single women may have to emigrate if they wish to continue doing secretarial work.

The economy of west Limerick, which is already reeling because of the 140 job losses in Aughinish Alumina, will suffer the loss of more than £2 million in wages. Many of the workers, some of whom have given considerable service to the company, will join the dole queue. Now that the company has indicated that these changes will take place from March 1994 it is imperative that the early response unit in the Department of Enterprise and Employment swings into action. Also, Bord Tráchtála should assist the company in their market research of European companies to ensure that the skills in the company continue to be used and the jobs are saved. This is vitally important. The Tánaiste, who is in the US, should go to Boulder, Colorado, and plead with the company on the importance of these customer service centres for the mid-west region. I sincerely hope that every effort will be made to ensure that the jobs are protected.

The announcement by Neodata Services Incorporated that it is consolidating its present subscription fulfilment operations at Boulder, Colorado, which in the absence of new business will lead to the closure of its plants at Listowel, Limerick City, Newcastle West and Kilmallock, came as a major shock to the mid-west region. While I will give every support to the Minister and the IDA to get the required business to keep the plants open, it will not be an easy task. What the management of Neodata Services Incorporated is saying is that it must win major orders from European companies who have their own arrangements in place at present. What can Neodata offer them to change their suppliers? It is very difficult to get the required business.

The Listowel plant employs 101 people, all of whom are women. Their annual wages amount to more than £1 million. This money is spent locally and makes a major impact in the town of Listowel and the surrounding villages.

Neodata is an excellent employer. The working conditions in the plant are excellent with good rates of pay. The plant is equipped with state-of-the-art technology with direct lines of communication to the USA.

The closure of the plant will also be a serious blow to the social fabric of the area. Over the years many of the women employed in Neodata married locally. Their children are now attending the local schools, etc. If the plant is closed many of the single women among the workforce will be forced to leave the area. This would be extremely sad for both the women and their families. It is estimated that nowadays it costs £50,000 to create each individual job. If the 100 jobs in Listowel are lost it will cost approximately £5 million to replace them.

I appeal to the Minister, on behalf of the people of Listowel which has a 20 per cent unemployment rate, to use all the resources in his Department to intervene immediately with the parent company to ask it to reverse this decision and also to convince it to postpone the March deadline until every avenue is explored to save the jobs.

I wish to thank Deputy Finucane for sharing his time with me. Like my colleague, Deputy Deenihan, my main concern is for the loss of jobs in Listowel and the announcement yesterday by Neodata Services that it intends to implement, in the next 12 to 15 months, a broad restructuring of the company to improve customer service. This is most unfortunate in that Neodata, particularly in Listowel, has given tremendous service. It has an excellent workforce.

I am not in a position to quantify the loss of 100 jobs, from a social and economic point of view, to an area such as Listowel which is already starved of employment as the vast majority of the employees are breadwinners. I am informed that Neodata Services Incorporated in Listowel was most efficient. This is a tribute to the workers and management. For this reason I appeal to the IDA and Shannon Development to pull out all the stops — which I have no doubt they will — and to prepare a package, financial and otherwise, to retain the jobs in the region, with particular emphasis on Listowel. Kerry Airport should be a major boost to Neodata and other industries in the area. It is interesting to note in the statement issued by Neodata in Colorado that it has assigned a senior vice-president, Mr. Pat Donnellan, to seek viable business opportunities. This phraseology leaves an opening for discussion and for this reason I appeal to the Minister to do all in her power to secure the retention of the jobs in the Limerick and Kerry areas. If necessary, the jobs should be subsidised.

I thank the Deputies who spoke on this matter this evening. Quite rightly, the Deputies who contributed focused attention on their constituencies but other Deputies from the Limerick region raised the issue with the Minister for Enterprise and Employment, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, and me.

It was with great regret that earlier this month we learned that Neodata had taken a strategic decision to consolidate all its business activities into two businesses and in two locations in the US. This will impact on us but there will be no impact on employment levels in Ireland before March next year. Therein lies the opportunity. The three Deputies who contributed to the debate this evening, Deputies Finucane, Deenihan and Foley and other Deputies from the region who have been involved referred to the time between now and March which must be used positively.

Neodata currently employs 390 people in four operations at Limerick, Kilmallock, Newcastle West and Listowel and are valued employers in the region. Everyone to whom I have spoken stressed the high level of co-operation between the employer and the employees. Everything possible will be done to address the issues and all will work to find a solution to retain as many jobs as possible. We are working closely with Neodata which, over the next 12 to 15 months, will be implementing a broad restructuring of the corporation and will include a consolidation of subscription fulfilment operations. Even before the announcement of the restructuring, I was encouraged to see that a specific team had been set up in Ireland by Neodata to identify new business alternatives for its Irish based operations. This team is headed by Mr. Pat Donnellan, a senior vice-president of the corporation who has been specifically assigned to Ireland for this purpose. My colleague, the Minister for Enterprise and Employment, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, has already spoken to Mr. Donnellan and advised him that we will provide whatever assistance we can to maintain as many existing jobs as possible. The State agencies will be working closely with this team. In addition, a very experienced official in my Department has been assigned to work specifically with Mr. Donnellan and he has already gone about that business. This official has been very much involved in the industrial side of the Department and he has great skill in these matters. The fact that he has been assigned to work specifically with Neodata shows the importance we attach to it and a hands on approach will be taken to this very serious situation.

Neodata has been a major employer in the region and all the Deputies who spoke stressed this point. It is important to stress that the decision to centralise subscription fulfilment operations into what the corporation calls "customer service centres" in Colorado is not a reflection on the performance of any one individual operation but is primarily in direct response to the demands of clients.

Last year Neodata experienced operating difficulties in a number of key areas, including magazine subscriptions. Earlier this year the board moved to address the problems to restore profitability and confidence of clients and to organise the business to meet these objectives. This entailed Neodata reducing its spread of four businesses in 22 locations to two businesses in the US.

At present the Irish operation carries out a number of functions on a centralised basis for magazine subscriptions. In recent years approximately one-third of order inputting had returned to the US for processing due to demands from clients for shorter processing time cycles. Although the computing area generally continues to be very volatile, Ireland continues to be an attractive location for, US companies.

I am encouraged by Neodata's high priority to seek viable business opportunities for its workforce in Ireland and to retain as many of the existing jobs as possible. Let me assure the House that we will continue to work closely with all our existing companies to maintain employment at the highest possible levels. Deputies from all parties have expressed the real concerns of the workforce in all those locations. The highest priority is attached in the Department to retaining as many jobs in Neodata or to attracting existing branches of industry to those locations. There is a strong work ethic in those regions, the workers have been used to working hard and have industrial experience which is very highly valued. The Minister and I are very keen to maintain the momentum and we cannot let it drop in the four to five months we have at our disposal. I will keep in touch with Deputies from all parties on the matter.

The Minister, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, is on Government business in Brussels this evening and tomorrow. We have already spoken about this matter and he has spearheaded the drive to find an urgent solution.