Northern Ireland’s manufacturing workforce was dealt another blow as aerospace firm Bombardier announced today (February 17) that more than 1,000 jobs would be axed in its Northern Ireland operation, part of a 7,000-job cull globally.
The devastating news means that 20 per cent of Bombardier’s Northern Ireland workforce must go, with 500 reductions planned this year at its Belfast site and 580 planned the year after. The firm is the largest single manufacturing employer in NI, employing about 6,000 people, and also produces 10 per cent of Northern Ireland’s total manufacturing exports.
Bombardier has said cutting jobs was necessary given “market realities”.
The firm has struggled after pouring money into its C-series passenger jet which has been beset by production delays and stiff competition from firms already well-established in the commercial plane sector.
As UNITElive reported last year, the Quebec government injected £1bn in cash in a joint venture to help the firm with its C-series programme. Unite has called for the Stormont and Westminster governments to step up and do more considering the importance that Bombardier plays as an employer in the region.
The firm, however, is fundamentally on a sound footing – Unite believes that its decision to axe so many jobs is a panic response to a shortage of cash after losing $10bn in operating capital as it has pushed to get its C-series programme off the ground.
Orders for the passenger jet, however, are now starting to come in – the company has said that Air Canada has ordered 75 of its CSeries 300 jets.
Mounting job losses
The news comes in the wake of mounting job losses in the manufacturing sector in Northern Ireland – in the last few months alone, about 2,000 redundancies were announced in the town of Ballymena from two of the largest employers in the area, JTI Gallagher and Michelin.
These job losses have been felt across the supply chain, crippling the local economy. In response, the Ballymena community joined Unite in a massive rally earlier this month demanding that the government step in to support businesses, spur investment and promote highly skilled jobs in the region.
Unite Ireland secretary Jimmy Kelly said that today’s news was further proof that manufacturing in Northern Ireland was in big trouble.
“Northern Ireland has historically had a fantastic tradition of manufacturing,” he said. “But then we have these job losses that have followed close on the heels of job losses in other major manufacturing firms.
“Take JTI-Gallaher for example,” Kelly noted. “Only recently we have heard that the firm will be moving production from Northern Ireland to Poland potentially. They’re taking jobs that pay £18 an hour here to jobs that pay £3 an hour there.
“Keep in mind that this company is making billions – they’re enormously profitable,” he noted. “But then they turn their backs on the Northern Ireland workforce that built up their business and helped make it the success it’s become.”
“These job losses are compounded by the redundancies at the Michelin tyre factory – these are all well-paid jobs that are being replaced by low-paid, insecure jobs that are blighting local communities.”
“This cannot be the future of Northern Ireland,” he added. “That’s why we put on the rally in Ballymena – to challenge the government to get off their butts and bring in investment urgently.”
“It must be understood that Northern Ireland does not live in a post-conflict society,” Kelly went on to say. “We are only just now emerging from conflict. Where is the so-called ‘peace dividend’ that the government promised us? The Tory government is instead imposing severe austerity cuts that will continue to choke our economy.”
Unite regional coordinating officer Davy Thomson also called for government action.
“The Northern Ireland Executive needs to redouble their efforts and secure alternative employment for those highly skilled workers who will be made redundant,” he said. “Invest NI must now commit themselves fully to proactively seeking foreign investment in manufacturing.
“We are calling for all parties to publicly support the call for a manufacturing strategy and establish an investment taskforce for the sector bringing together all stakeholders, including Unite,” Thomson added.
Thomson highlighted that Unite will continue to liaise with Bombardier management to “secure jobs in Belfast and defend our members’ terms and conditions during this difficult period.”
Unite assistant general secretary Tony Burke emphasised the importance of an explicit strategy from the government to support key industries.
“Our problem in the UK is that we do not have a manufacturing strategy,” he told SkyNews this afternoon.
“We’ve got a soundbite strategy from the government – ‘march of the makers’, ‘rebalancing the economy’, ‘the northern powerhouse’, ‘fixing the roof while the sun is shining’ — and yet they don’t seem to be able to turn things around,” Burke added.
“We’ve got a crisis in steel, we’ve got a crisis in the offshore oil industry and of course all the supply chain that feeds into it as well.”