Timex president's firms went bust owing pounds 718,000: Company chief who locked out workers was barred from own factory

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The Independent Online
PETER HALL, the man in charge of the besieged Timex electronics plant in Dundee, is listed by the Department of Trade in London as the owner of two engineering companies in Epsom, Surrey, that last year went bust with total debts of pounds 718,004.

Mr Hall, now the company's president, first became linked with Timex just over 18 months ago when he became a consultant to the Dundee operation of the US-owned multinational. On 24 March last year, Athelstone Automation, owned by Mr Hall, was put into liquidation with debts of pounds 562,460. Another of his companies, ANS Precision Engineering, was wound up on 29 April 1992 with debts of pounds 155,544. Both actions took place in the High Court.

As Mr Hall began his consultancy work for Timex, the financial difficulties of his companies resulted in him being locked out of his own factory in England by the landlord after falling behind with rent payments. The Edinburgh public relations company now acting for Mr Hall confirmed yesterday that Timex knew about Mr Hall's background when he was hired. Mr Hall hoped his income from the Dundee job would allow him to refinance his companies.

Mr Hall rents a house in the Dundee area, but travels back every week to his family home in Surrey.

When he first went to Timex, it had been supplying IBM, the computer manufacturer, in Greenock with printed circuit boards for a little more than a year. The lucrative contract was expected to be extended, with an increase in the Dundee workforce.

But the downturn in the world PC market and IBM's massive loss meant a sharp cut in orders.

Before Christmas last year, Timex workers were told of planned lay-offs. The unions wanted the lay-offs to be on a rotation basis. Management wanted areas of the workforce to be reduced. Despite intervention by officials of the AEEU engineering union, a strike took place on 29 January.

After deciding to return to work on 15 February, expecting the disagreement to go to Acas, the conciliation and arbitration service, the hourly- paid workforce were locked out.

New contracts were then offered, described as a 'Hoover deal' by William Leslie, the deputy union convener. To return to work, employees would have to accept an effective 10 per cent pay cut, reduced union representation and an end to a range of benefits. Two days later 343 workers were sacked for failing to agree to the new terms. Timex began to bus in replacement workers a few days later.

Two bus loads of replacements are now going through the Timex gates every morning. The 600-strong demonstration and 14 arrests outside the factory on Monday was the first large- scale protest outside the gates. Last week the Court of Session in Edinburgh refused to ban former employees from gathering outside the gates.

Mr Hall's immediate aim will be to ensure that existing orders for IBM and timer-control circuits for Creda, the cooker manufacturer, are met. Although he could legally begin to re-employ sacked workers in mid-May, or wait until he learns if IBM intends to place another order, there will now be question marks over the ability of the alternative workers to deliver the quality levels IBM demands.

IBM said: 'We are monitoring the situation.' IBM continually checks on its suppliers, a process known as 'vendor evaluation'. It could easily switch the order to other suppliers.

Militants yesterday set the stage for renewed mass picketing at the Timex plant when the dispute enters its ninth week on Monday. Rejecting accusations by MPs and others of 'rent-a-mob' tactics, Scottish Militant Labour, the Far Left group, said it planned to bus in supporters to join the picket line on Monday and appealed to other groups to follow suit.

Yesterday, Scottish Militant Labour justified its action by citing a written message from John Kydd, the sacked Timex union convenor, appealing for trade unionists, political parties 'and any individuals the length and breadth of Britain' to support the weekly Monday picket.