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Tuesday, July 13, 1999 Published at 10:15 GMT 11:15 UK

Business: The Company File

Balloon goes up on BOC independence

BOC is a world leader in gas supplies

The world's second-biggest industrial gases group, BOC, is being taken over by a US-French consortium in a 7.2bn deal.

BOC has immediately moved to reassure its 11,000 UK employees that redundancies will not be as bad as feared.

If shareholders accept the move, it will mark the end of 130 years of independence for the group.

Unions have reacted with dismay to the takeover by Air Liquide of France and Air Products of the US and warned of huge job losses.

[ image: BOC markets a huge range of products]
BOC markets a huge range of products
Roger Lyons, General Secretary of the Manufacturing, Science and Finance Union, said: "This takeover is a disaster for British jobs and for the British chemical industry.

"Jobs in Britain are cheaply disposed of in comparison to those in France and Air Liquide will lose no sleep making thousands of British workers redundant.

Mr Lyons called on Trade and Industry Secretary Stephen Byers to order an inquiry and intervene, if necessary, to protect jobs.

BOC employs nearly 1,000 people Scotland and Danny Carrigan, Scottish Secretary of the AEEU union, said he would be seeking an early meeting with the company.

But Chairman and Chief Executive of Air Liquide Alain Joly said redundancies should not be significant in the UK because it had no operations in the region yet.

US redundancies

Speaking generally of the BOC global workforce, he said: "Since we do not have significant overlaps there are not going to be significant redundancies in the field operations, with the possible exception of the US."

BOC Chairman Sir David John said his board had received assurances to ensure "fair treatment" of BOC workers by the two bidders.

[ image: Unions fear jobs will go]
Unions fear jobs will go
If shareholders accept the move, it will mark the end of 130 years of independence for the world's second biggest gases group.

The two bidders are offering 14.60 for each BOC share, representing a premium of 42% on the market price before rumours of the talks emerged in May.

Analysts have said BOC's head office in Windlesham, Surrey, will close as part of the deal. Plans to move it were already in place.

The future of BOC's non-gases operations was unclear as they are not central to the operations of either bidder.

Microchip plants

BOC owns a vacuum products operation, used to keep environments clean in areas such as microchip manufacturing plants.

It also has a distribution arm, which in the UK transports Marks & Spencer's chilled foods.

Analysts have suggested these may be sold off, but Mr Joly said the companies would examine them more closely before making any decision.

BOC, with Air Liquide and Air Products, makes a wide range of gases such as carbon dioxide for fizzy drinks.

It has been the subject of takeover speculation since late 1997 and was hit hard by the Asian financial crisis.

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