The futures of nearly 4,000 key manufacturing jobs in Northern Ireland could be in now doubt following Bombardier’s announcement yesterday (May 2) that the Canadian aerospace giant is to sell its aero structures division globally – including all five production sites in Northern Ireland.
Unite members were shocked to hear the news. “The announcement will come as a shock to the entire Bombardier workforce in Northern Ireland,” commented Jackie Pollock, Unite regional secretary in Ireland.
“Many of the company’s 3,600 employees will be left asking what this will mean for their long-term future of their jobs. Unite will be seeking assurances from Bombardier and the government around this process,” he added.
The Canadian firm is the largest local private sector employer. Workers build wings and fuselages for airliners. The prospect of a sale has reignited fears about the future of the firm’s highly skilled staff – and the loss of those skills to the region.
A spokesperson for the Prime Minister, Theresa May said the decision to sell was “disappointing” but added the plant’s “key capabilities should enable it to continue to operate, albeit with different ownership.”
Business secretary Greg Clark MP agreed, praising the “expertise and highly skilled and dedicated staff,” adding that it is “one of the country’s most important aerospace facilities, a vital asset in the UK’s aerospace sector.”
But it’s keeping the jobs within the area that really counts. “It doesn’t matter whose name is above the gate – what matters is that we safeguard jobs and skills in this critical industry,” commented Pollock.
“The UK government must stand ready to ensure the retention of jobs and skills at these sites, Bombardier is simply too important to the Northern Ireland economy to allow anything less.”
Pollock added, “Bombardier workers in Northern Ireland are among the most highly-skilled workers in the sector globally – we produce a world class product here with a world-class workforce. Whoever the buyer is there’s an undeniable case for investment to not only sustain but expand production and employment into the future.”
Bombardier said, “We understand that this announcement may cause concern among our employees, but will be working closely with them and our unions as matters progress and through any future transition period to a new owner.”
‘We will cause hell’
Unite regional coordinating officer Susan Fitzgerald said that all that mattered was that workers had the security of employment. “By hook or by crook we will play a role in watching who is putting their name forward,” she told the Irish News.
“We will be closely watching that and if we see rogue elements and people come in and asset strip or a take a blade to this workforce we will cause hell.”
“Bombardier’s Northern Ireland workforce is world class and a global leader in aerospace. Unite’s key priorities are retaining jobs and securing investment in any sale process,” Unite assistant general secretary for manufacturing Steve Turner reaffirmed.
“I have spoken to the business secretary Greg Clark about securing commitments from Bombardier that it will retain its aero structures division in Northern Ireland if no interested parties come forward and expect to speak to Bombardier’s chief executive soon.”
He added, “Unite is also in close contact with other global aerospace companies which could come forward as a potential buyer for Bombardier’s aero structures. Throughout this process Unite will be working to ensure that Northern Ireland’s proud tradition in aerospace continues to be a source for decent jobs for generations to come.”
Hear Susan Fitzgerald on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme (May 3)