Job loss fears at Caterpillar NI sites

Caterpillar employs almost 1,500 people in sites at Larne, Newtownabbey and west Belfast
Caterpillar employs almost 1,500 people in sites at Larne, Newtownabbey and west Belfast

Ongoing difficulties facing Caterpillar worldwide are expected to lead to job losses within the US firm’s Northern Ireland operations.

Caterpillar currently employs around 1,500 people in four divisions across three sites spread between Larne, Newtownabbey and west Belfast.

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They are expected to hear full details at specially convened meetings on Thursday morning.

The firm, best known for machinery used in the construction and mining industries, has seen difficult trading conditions particularly amidst a global mining slump.

Figures for the three months to the end of July showed that retail machine sales were down 19% year on year, with construction industries down 10%, resources industries down 42% and energy and transportation retail sales down 24%.

Established as FG Wilson, the Northern Ireland business is focused primarily on electricity generation although some other functions have been introduced in recent years.

At the same time, more than 1,000 jobs have been in the balance.

Rumours that hundreds more were now at risk were described as far-fetched by one source.

The company itself declined to comment though a spokesman said the firm was “committed to communicating regularly and directly with our employees about the business environment and any resulting changes”.

Already some production from the Province has been moved to other locations closer to intended Asian and Middle Eatern markets, but the firm has also introduced some machinery assembly and administrative functions in a bid to maintain employment.

The fall in the strength of sterling in Europe is also a potentially positive development for locally produced equipment.

West Belfast MP Paul Maskey said uncertainty over the future of Caterpillar’s operations in Northern Ireland would be distressing for workers and their families.

“Staff have been told to expect an announcement later in the week and there has been much speculation about what it will entail,” he said.

“It is vitally important that management at Caterpillar keep all employees up to date with the latest information as soon as possible.”