The faces of a company crisis

Roca is closing its bathroom fittings plant in Alcalá de Henares The move will deal a serious blow to the already-struggling local economy

Antonio Mayor Fernández has been at Roca for 46 years. "Thanks to our hard work, Roca has expanded worldwide."
Antonio Mayor Fernández has been at Roca for 46 years. "Thanks to our hard work, Roca has expanded worldwide."ÁLVARO GARCÍA

The economy of Alcalá de Henares, a city in the northeast of the Madrid region, has long been dominated by Roca, one of the world's biggest bathroom fittings firms. The company has been there since 1962, at one point employing 5,000 people as Alcalá's population quadrupled over the course of the decade to more than 20,000 people.

But last year, the company announced that it was to lay off 1,900 of its Spanish workforce for at least a year, temporarily closing its plants in Alcalá de Henares, Barcelona and Seville.

At the time a spokesman for Roca said the cuts would help secure the 92-year-old company's future. "There's no plan to file for administration because these temporary layoffs will be sufficient," he said.

Now, a year later, Roca has announced it is to permanently lay off 713 workers in Spain, closing its Alcalá de Henares plant, which employs 258 people.

The company adjusted production but the measures weren't enough"

The company, which employs 20,000 staff worldwide and has already laid off workers in Morocco and Portugal, says it has been hammered by fast-deteriorating economic conditions in Spain, which have hit the construction sector especially hard, and that its operations in Alcalá de Henares and Seville are no longer profitable.

"The shrinking refurbishment market and the construction crisis have led to a constant fall in sales," Roca said in a statement. "The company adjusted production in 2008 but these measures have not been enough given the situation in the new market and the economy as a whole."

In response to the announcement, workers at Alcalá de Henares, led by the town's mayor, Javier Bello, set up a camp outside the company's offices on December 27.

José Algar Tordesillas, 59, is among those camped out at Roca's offices, along with his wife and one of his sons. He is typical of the generation who moved to fast-growing towns like Alcalá de Henares to escape rural poverty in the 1960s. He joined the company in 1970, aged 16.

"I was here when this was just a wasteland, when hardly anything had been built," he explains. "Roca started here. And now it's an empire, with offices and factories all over the world, thanks to our hard work, the hard work of us here in Alcalá, and Seville, and Barcelona. A lot of people have given the best years of their life to make this a success. To begin with we did everything by hand. It was tough work, hard work," he says.

Miguel Ángel Mayor Martín, also protesting, has worked at the factory for 39 years. "I gave them my best. This is absolutely outrageous, and very sad: they are simply throwing us on the scrapheap, from one day to the next."

They are simply throwing us on the scrapheap, from one day to the next"

Other workers at the plant say that they do not understand why the company is closing what was once one of its most advanced factories, and believe that a solution can still be found to avoid closure. "They have run down investment, and now they say that we are no longer profitable. We don't understand how they can stop making the best-selling products here and then say that we are no longer profitable," says José María Esteban as a car passes and toots its horn. "The people of Alcalá support us in this," he says.

Roca has about 3,000 workers in Spain. It announced in July that it would be laying off more than 700 employees.

After several months of tough negotiations, in which management and labor unions were unable to reach an agreement, the layoffs were eventually referred to the Labor Ministry, which has considered the company's argument for a reduction in its workforce "proven."

Workers affected by redundancy will receive compensation of 45 days' salary per year of service, with a maximum of 42 months' pay. With redundancies now approved, the ministry said in a statement, the continuation of activity at Roca will be ensured. The company has pledged not to carry out further job cuts through redundancy procedures.

The government has also allowed Roca to suspend the contracts of 200 workers for a year. They will receive 80 percent of their gross salary and all of their extra payments, such as paid holidays. The company says it will develop a training plan for those affected by redundancies.