DUBLIN, Ireland (AP) -- Waterford Crystal plans to jettison most of its remaining Irish work force and produce the bulk of its hand-cut glassware overseas, employees and union representatives said Tuesday.
The Dublin-based company confirmed plans to open negotiations over layoffs but declined to discuss specifics or confirm whether it would continue manufacturing in Ireland or become exclusively focused on tourism.
Several workers leaving the crystal works in Waterford said union leaders told them the company wants to cut 280 more jobs. That would come on top of 490 job cuts announced last November and leave just 125 workers in Waterford, nearly half of them employed at the tourism center that attracts some 300,000 visitors annually.
Changing consumer tastes, cheaper competition from aboard, and the weak U.S. dollar have all taken a toll on profits for cut-glass products made in Ireland.
On Monday, key shareholders of Waterford Wedgwood PLC approved the latest in a string of increasingly desperate new stock issues seeking to raise cash.
More than three-fourths of the issue was bought by its two biggest shareholders, publishing magnate Sir Anthony O'Reilly and his brother-in-law Peter Goulandris, who have plowed hundreds of millions into the failing enterprise. But the offering fell $30 million short of its $137 million target as other investors stayed away.
Waterford Wedgwood shares have been virtually worthless for months, trading at less than three-tenths of a U.S. cent each. It reported a year ago having a total debt of $748.9 million, more than 10 times its current market value.
Many Waterford-branded sets of lead crystal and glassware already are produced by subcontractors in eastern Europe and Brazil, while Wedgwood-branded ceramics and china increasingly are produced in Indonesia.
The company has been mulling whether to reduce the Waterford operation to a tourism-only site since at least May, when the Irish government rejected its appeal for emergency assistance.
Waterford Wedgwood traces its lineage to a factory opened in 1783, although that business failed in the 1850s. The brand was revived by a Czech immigrant to Waterford, Miroslav Havel, in 1947.
The crystal side of the business thrived throughout the 1990s and at its height employed 3,200 people in Ireland.