Aerospace engineering giant Bombardier has come under fire for sending a message to its roughly 5,000-strong Belfast workforce, stating that the firm would prefer the UK to remain within the EU.
The email, sent on Thursday, goes on to add that Bombardier’s Belfast bosses believe that voting against an EU exit would benefit the country’s business community at large.
It also points out that the firm has received support from the EU in the past to fund research and development schemes – and states that the company would be incapable of doing such work without external assistance.
Managers were instructed to distribute hard copies of the email to staff and to pin it to noticeboards.
The TUV, which is strongly anti-EU, said that the missive to workers amounted to the firm “overstepping the mark” when it comes to pressing its case for a pro-EU outcome to the referendum on June 23.
The message from Michael Ryan, vice-president and general manager of the firm’s Belfast operations, states in part: “There is no doubt that membership of the EU has helped support investment and facilitate growth within the total UK aerospace industry...
“We export 100 per cent of what we build here from Northern Ireland. In fact, 95 per cent of our products are exported outside of the UK and 33 per cent go directly into Europe.”
It adds: “Over the years, we have been able to access millions of pounds of investment from Northern Ireland, the wider UK and from Europe.
“This enables us to develop key technologies and allows us to foster partnerships with other European aerospace companies ... But we could not afford to carry out R&D on our own, both in financial terms and in what we learn from other companies.”
For example, research by the News Letter in February showed that the EU gave Bombardier in Northern Ireland a grant worth about £10.2m in 2010 for help with research on a business jet programme.
Also in February, the firm announced it intends to reduce its Northern Irish workforce by over 1,000 by the end of next year – roughly 20 per cent of its total workforce.
The email added: “Finally, we also believe it is vital that the UK continues to engage in Brussels to help shape the EU regulatory environment, and ultimately enhance the competitiveness and growth of UK business.
“It can only do that effectively by remaining part of the EU.”
TUV councillor and EU spokesman Henry Reilly said: “There is no doubt that the company has overstepped the mark in seeking to influence how their employees will vote in the most important referendum our nation has faced in our lifetime.
“It is disappointing Bombardier would seek to influence their employees’ decision at the ballot box. The company is entitled to a view but this is a decision for each individual citizen of the UK to make.”
Business For Britain, an anti-EU lobby group, called the email “wholly inappropriate”.
When contacted, Bombardier said: “As one of Northern Ireland’s largest employers, we strongly believe that our competitiveness and future success is better served if the UK remains part of the EU.”