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National Semiconductor is axe 700 jobs at its Greenock manufacturing plant, reducing the 1,500 workforce by almost half. Sources close to the company blamed the job cuts on this years semiconductor price drops: “Some of Natsemi products are going out at less than a penny,” said Sukh Rayat, general manager at Flashpoint UK , a distributor of NatSemi Cyrix processors. “Prices have fallen further and have lasted longer than anyone could have expected.” National Semiconductor has operated a plant in Scotland’s Silicon Glen for more than 25 years. At Greenock, the company makes a wide variety of ICs (integrated circuits) for incorporation into consumer electronic systems, and power management and automotive systems. NatSemi’s Greenock plant has come under fire, following a spate of cancers, birth defects and miscarriages recorded among female workers past and present. A group of 75 women have banded together to press claims that exposure to dangerous chemicals at NatSemi Greenock were to blame for miscarriages or cancer. NatSemi rebuts the claims. The company had never exposed employees to chemicals above legal limits, Edward Sweeney, VP of human resources told the Wall Street Journal. “We have seen no pattern of abnormalities at that plant”. Chips don’t cause abortions, according to a controversial study published in March by the UK Health and Safety Executive. It found that the miscarriage rate for women working in semiconductor plants was, at 10 per cent, lower than the 12 per cent average for the UK population at large. "The industry and people working in it should be reassured by the results of this investigation," said Dr. John Osman, the HSE's head of epidemiology, at the time. The findings appear to contradict earlier US studies which showed higher than average miscarriage rates among fab plant employees. The US reports are not necessarily wrong, according to the HSE, which points out that the use of several chemicals in semiconductor manufacture has been banned in the last few years. These include glycol ether-based solvents, which are known reproductive hazards for women, and phased out of the semiconductor industry only from 1993. NatSemi’s job cuts come as another hammer blow to the UK governments policy to encourage inward investment by overseas chip companies. More than 3,000 job losses in the sector have been announced in recent weeks. US Company Viasystems last week announced 900 job cuts with the closure of two factories in the Scottish Borders. In the North East, Siemens is close to shutting down its DRAM manufacturing plant, after failing to come to terms with a prospective buyer( a French –led consortium. Up to 2,000 more jobs at external suppliers are thought to hinge on the closure. Fujitsu last month announced that it would close down its DRAM plant sited in Prime Minister Tony Blairs Sedgefield, Co. Durham constiruency , with the loss of 500 jobs. ® Click here for more stories

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