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Toyota Workers Protest, Halt Production At French Plant

Striking French workers angry over cutbacks blocked production at a Toyota Motor Corp. plant Friday, demanding better compensation for working fewer hours.

PARIS (AP) -- A court on Friday convicted 9 workers at Caterpillar France of hampering the freedom to work and 11 others of illegally occupying company grounds, and ordered them all fined euro200 ($265) each time they repeat such actions to protest layoffs.

The court action came after two days of protests at the plant in Echirolles, outside Grenoble in southeast France, with workers camping out in tents to protest the planned layoffs.

Last month, Caterpillar workers held four managers hostage for more than 24 hours to get their complaints heard, but no legal action was taken against them.

Workers at French Caterpillar plants are seeking a better deal in a plan to cut hundreds of jobs at the sites -- part of thousands of layoffs at the Peoria, Illinois-based, company's worldwide operations prompted by the economic downturn. Caterpillar has said it would reduce the 733 planned layoffs to 600 but negotiations continued.

"The goal was to re-establish a state of law," company lawyer Bernard Gallizia said after the decision. Caterpillar had filed a complaint. He said negotiations would continue and work would resume Monday.

Radical protest actions have been spreading across France as more jobs are lost to the economic downturn.

In northern France, striking French workers angry over cutbacks blocked production Friday at a Toyota Motor Corp. plant, demanding better compensation for working fewer hours.

Picket lines blocked all four entrances to the factory in Onnaing, which makes Yaris cars, said Eric Pecquer, representative of the CGT union. He said 300 of the plant's 2,700 employees took part in the protest.

Plant spokeswoman Christelle Blandin said some 80 workers started blocking trucks from entering the site Thursday night, causing a halt to production.

The workers want more compensation for so-called short-time contracts, intended to cut workers' hours but avoid layoffs. Workers are usually paid for the hours they don't work, but at a reduced rate.

Like many French car factories, the Toyota plant has slowed output because of sinking car sales as the auto industry suffers its worst crisis in decades.

Workers have been on strike for several days, but until Friday the plant was still operating at a reduced pace.

Blandin said an agreement on ending the conflict had won approval from two unions, but that some striking workers rejected it.

In recent months, French workers have locked up their bosses and gone on hunger strike to demand a better deal amid layoffs and other cutbacks by employers squeezed by recession.

On Thursday, 100 workers fearing layoffs locked up five bosses for 10 hours at a Hewlett-Packard subsidiary in eastern France. The workers at FM Logistic at Woippy, in the eastern Moselle region, freed their superiors after they promised to present new jobs proposals. Negotiations were deadlocked Friday evening.

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