About 400 jobs are under threat after the US pharmaceutical multinational Johnson & Johnson announced plans to close a factory in West Lothian and transfer work overseas.
The Ethicon facility in Livingston makes surgical sutures which are used around the world but demand has fallen, leaving the company with spare manufacturing capacity globally.
A 45-day consultation has begun with staff at the Scottish site and it is expected that the plant will be wound down over the next 12 to 18 months. The work will be transferred to lower-cost locations such as Mexico and Brazil as well as a US plant in San Angelo, Texas.
The minimum monthly wage in Brazil is equivalent to about £190. Data from the OECD suggests the minimum wage in Mexico is equivalent to just £3.50 per day.
The closure of the Livingston site is not thought to be related to uncertainty over Brexit or a second Scottish independence referendum.
Keith Brown, the cabinet secretary for the economy, jobs and fair work, said the Scottish government was hugely disappointed by the decision as it had been working with Johnson & Johnson to see what could be done to support the factory.
“I know this will be an extremely anxious time for the company’s employees and their families. My thoughts are very much with those individuals at this worrying time,” he said. “Our focus now is on working with J&J to try to find a new owner for the site and on doing all we can to support the affected staff through this difficult period.
“Our engagement will continue throughout the consultation period as we explore every avenue to secure the future of the site and its workforce.”
David Mundell, the secretary of state for Scotland, said: “This is a difficult and uncertain time for the workers, families and community in Livingston.
“The UK government has been working closely with Johnson & Johnson and the Scottish government to find a solution that will protect as many jobs as possible. Ministers will continue to hold discussions to help secure the future of the site.”
Johnson & Johnson said at the start of last year that it was looking to restructure its entire medical supplies division. That is expected to see its global workforce shrink by up to 6 per cent.
The company said: “We carefully assessed our options and recognise our proposed plans have the potential to significantly affect our employees, their families and the local community. We are committed to supporting them through the consultation process.”
Johnson & Johnson also owns Lifescan Scotland, which makes diabetes equipment and employs about 1,300 people in Inverness. That business is entirely separate from the Livingston operation and is not affected by yesterday’s announcement.
The company’s decision comes almost 14 years after Johnson & Johnson shut its Ethicon suture and needle manufacturing sites in Edinburgh with the loss of 850 jobs.
The latest closure will be a blow to the West Lothian economy, although it has faced worse situations in the past.
About 1,600 jobs were lost in the region when Halls, the meat processing group, shut its Broxburn plant in 2012. In 2001, some 3,100 posts went when Motorola closed a mobile phone factory in Bathgate.
Ethicon’s roots in Scotland can be traced back to the pharmacist George Merson, who developed a unique eyeless suture in the 1920s after experiments in his Edinburgh home. Johnson & Johnson bought Merson’s business in the late 1940s and renamed it Ethicon.
Separately, BP said yesterday it was not going ahead with plans to build a new heat and power plant at the Kinneil oil terminal at Grangemouth. About 400 jobs were expected to have been supported during the construction of the facility.