Unite expressed bitter disappointment in prime minister Theresa May after she met with the Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau to discuss trade at a summit on Monday (September 18).
The meeting occurred as US aerospace company Boeing has engaged in what Unite has called “corporate bullying” after it accused its Canadian-based rival Bombardier of engaging in anti-competitive practices.
Boeing’s claim, if held up by the US department of commerce in a ruling expected next week, could mean Bombardier will be slapped with big fines by the US and could in turn affect jobs at the company’s site in Northern Ireland, where more than 4,000 people are employed.
Unite believes that Boeing’s claim is groundless, because the state aid Boeing has accused Bombardier of receiving is perfectly legal — it came in the form of loans and investment.
The prime minister was expected to press the case for UK workers and the importance of the Bombardier site at the summit meeting with the Canadian PM but instead she gave the matter only passing mention, pledging to take it up with President Donald Trump at a later date.
On the other hand, Trudeau pledged decisive action.
“We have obviously been looking at the Super Hornet aircraft from Boeing as a potential significant procurement of our new fighter jets,” said Trudeau at a joint press conference with May.
“But we won’t do business with a company that’s busy trying to sue us and put our aerospace workers out of business.”
Unite’s Ireland regional secretary Jim Kelly reiterated the “serious threat” posed by Boeing’s accusation to jobs in Northern Ireland.
“In addition to the 4,500 workers directly employed by Bombardier in Belfast, this case threatens tens of thousands of jobs in the broader economy, both in the services sector sustained by workforce’s wage bill of £400 million a year and in the hundreds of companies who form part of its extended supply network,” he said.
“As such, this is the most pressing issue facing our political leaders today. We need resolute action to avoid the impact that punitive tariffs would have on the company and by extension the workforce; and we need that action urgently.”
Kelly said that Unite was “very disappointed” that prime minister Theresa May did not “deliver a clear message to a very worried public that this is a priority concern for the UK government too.
“The UK is the second largest purchaser of Boeing products – we urge the UK prime minister to use the huge leverage she has here.
“Yesterday’s summit with Prime Minister Trudeau of Canada offered a perfect opportunity to send a strong warning to Boeing; why was it squandered?” Kelly added.
He contrasted May’s approach to Trudeau’s, in which the Canadian PM “signaled his intent to review plans to procure Boeing’s Super-Hornet if the corporation continued to threaten the jobs of Canadian aerospace workers.
“Boeing needs to understand that the UK government will not stand idly by while their attempts at corporate bullying destroy our industrial base,” Kelly argued.
“In the absence of such a determined course, Unite will continue our schedule of meetings with political leaders both locally and nationally,” he noted. “We urge the UK government to act accordingly and urge that the Secretary of State, James Brokenshire MP, wastes no further time in accepting over our request for a meeting with him on this issue.”