AstraZeneca leads the way in slashing of workforces

DRUGS giant AstraZeneca yesterday led a host of blue-chip companies announcing sweeping job cuts as the global economy struggles to regain traction.

The group said it was slashing a further 8,000 jobs across its operations under a restructuring programme that has already seen 12,600 roles axed.

The jobs will go over the next four years across global functions, including sales and marketing, business infrastructure, research and development and the supply chain.

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Astra warned there may be some closures of R&D sites or facilities as part of a company reorganisation which aims to deliver cost savings of $1.8 billion (1.1bn) by 2014.

The firm has a number of operations across the UK, including its head office in Macclesfield, Cheshire, and sites in Alderley Park, Loughborough, Bristol, Luton and London. It employs a small number of staff in Scotland.

Meanwhile, home shopping group Shop Direct dealt a further blow to the UK's faltering economy, announcing the loss of 1,500 jobs at the firm's sites in Sunderland, Burnley and Newtown in Mid Wales.

The GMB trade union said the announcement was a "devastating blow" to local communities and pledged to do everything it could during the 90-day consultation to lessen the impact of the "disastrous" news.

Shop Direct chief executive Mark Newton-Jones said: "We are working closely with the trade unions to help staff through the consultation process and support them in finding future employment."

Newton-Jones added that the proportion of business generated online had grown significantly over the past five years, resulting in excess capacity and space in the contact centres.

Hamilton-based rail contractor Babcock Rail also unveiled plans to reduce its workforce, cutting 300 jobs in Scotland and the north of England, including a "slimmed down" management team.

Chief executive John Howie said: "Our business transformation plan is designed to make the business fit for the future."

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Economists have warned that unemployment is likely to continue rising for some time despite the economy emerging from recession in the closing months of 2009.

Yesterday's job cuts, which also included industrial conglomerate Siemens shedding almost 2,000 posts in mainland Europe, was countered with some positive employment news from Nissan, US consumer electronics company Best Buy and engineering firm Mabey Bridge.

Nissan is to launch a temporary third production shift at its main UK plant, creating 400 new jobs and safeguarding 160 temporary posts.

Best Buy plans to create up to 1,000 jobs in the UK over the next five years and Mabey Bridge is poised to add 240 jobs making towers for wind turbines at a new facility in Chepstow, Monmouthshire.

Best Buy has previously announced plans to create 8,000 jobs in the new stores, and said that 1,000 posts will be needed for after-sales support in its Geek Squad division.