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Plans by Maerklin, one of the world's leading model-train brands, to lay off factory staff and shift some of its manufacturing to low-cost Asian nations, were assailed Thursday by demonstrating workers at the Nuremberg Toy Fair.

However Ulrich Wlecke, chief executive of the German company, which is owned by Kingsbridge Capital of Britain, defended the cost-cutting plan as "unavoidable."

The protesters belonged to a workforce of 60 at Maerklin's factory in Nuremberg making Trix trains, a sub-brand which is especially popular among US toy-train collectors.

They said they were upset that 30 jobs were to be scrapped, with staff in Hungary and China to take over their functions.

Maerklin's main factory is in the German town of Goeppingen. It plans to close outright a plant at Sonneberg, Germany with 220 staff.

Wlecke said he did not dispute that the Sonneberg and Nuremberg sites had become very efficient, but the company had to cut costs overall, as other model-train manufacturers were doing, and aimed to ultimately produce 20 to 25 per cent of output at Asian factories.

The Toy Fair, the world's biggest toy expo, opened Thursday for a six-day run, showing trade buyers from round the world the latest in toys for both children and adults.
 
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