Unite and other unions have slammed a decision from the US Department of Commerce, which ruled that a 220 per cent tariff should be levied on the company’s imported CSeries planes, whose wings are manufactured in Northern Ireland.
The decision announced last night (September 26) sent shockwaves throughout Northern Ireland – nearly 1,000 direct jobs involving CSeries wing production may be at risk, as well as thousands more throughout the rest of the Bombardier factory and wider supply chain.
Unite senior shop steward George Burnside told the Guardian he had been getting phone calls from fellow colleagues from early in the morning asking why the tariff was so large.
“They cannot believe the enormity of it or get their heads around it,” he said. “There have been a lot of tough times at this factory over the last 26 years and we got through. I hope that the company will appeal and the battle isn’t over yet.
“There are highly skilled jobs inside this plant which is the biggest manufacturer in Northern Ireland,” he added. “Thousands of other people’s jobs outside of Bombardier depend on this company too. There are a lot of worried people out there not only in Northern Ireland but the Republic and Britain who supply into Bombardier. It’s a very worrying time.”
In its ruling, the Department of Commerce argued that the CSeries, on which Delta airlines had placed an order of up to 125 planes to be delivered next year, was sold well below the cost of production because it had received state aid from the Canadian and UK governments.
Unite believes these claims are wrong and hypocritical. The public investment Bombardier has received, Unite argues, is perfectly legal and Boeing did not suffer harm from the Delta order in any case – it never even put in a bid. What’s more, Boeing itself has received billions in dollars of investment from the US government.
Unite Ireland regional secretary Jim Kelly explained while the decision was not unexpected, Unite will fight tooth and nail for jobs.
He said the threat of punitive tariffs on the CSeries “will cast a shadow over Bombardier’s future unless the company can source alternative and substantial sales outside the US market” and blamed US president Donald Trump’s protectionist tendencies for the fact that the Depart of Commerce’s decision is unlikely to be overturned.
“Today’s decision in favour of Boeing’s allegations of anti-competitive pricing poses a direct and very serious threat to the 4,500 Bombardier jobs in Belfast and many more dependent on them across our service sector and in the wider supply chain,” he said.
“This would cause serious damage to our economy and to our society – which needs a robust economy to underpin our society’s continued political progress and the path to reconciliation.
“Despite this ruling, Boeing’s case is without merit – they suffered no detriment from Bombardier’s success in winning the Delta order,” Kelly added. “Unite is supportive of the Bombardier defence and we are determined to ensuring no fall out in regard to the jobs of our members.
Unite and other unions as well as MPs have called for immediate government action and have criticised prime minister Theresa May for her tepid approach – in contrast to the Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau who to review government contracts for Boeing products.
May is said to have raised the issue with Donald Trump in a phone conversation before the ruling – but no other action has been taken since.
Labour’s shadow industrial strategy minister Chi Onwurah said today’s outcome demonstrated the prime minister’s ineptness.
“It’s a damning indictment of the criminal negligence and complacency of Theresa May and her government, and a sign of their entire lack of international negotiating skills which bodes really badly for our post-Brexit negotiations,” she told Sky News.
Kelly has argued the UK government has the leverage to take effective action.
“Boeing is highly exposed to action by the UK government – which constitutes its second biggest client globally,” he said.
“As such we welcome today’s statement by the Secretary of State, James Brokenshire, which stood over the legality of the support provided both on a UK level and by the Northern Ireland Executive. The government must continue to defend its ability to invest in vital manufacturing sectors and to defend UK workers.”
“Despite this blow, the Bombardier jobs can still be safeguarded,” Kelly added. “The UK government must now intervene to secure orders from British carriers for Bombardier aircraft – they should also immediately review all contracts with Boeing. If other countries are going to erect protectionist barriers to UK companies, our government needs to be proactive in response.”
The Department of Commerce ruling will be followed by a final decision in February next year, when the US International Trade Commission will either accept the initial ruling or could potentially dismiss it.