More than 1,000 jobs are set to go at aerospace business Bombardier’s Belfast divison over the next two years as the firm pursues further swingeing cost-cutting measures.
Up to 7,000 posts are expected to go across the Canadian-owned firm’s global operations as the C Series passenger aircraft project continues to drain resources – even as it announced an order for 75 CS300 aircraft from Air Canada.
Another 270 jobs will be cut at other non-aerospace sites in the UK including Derby, Crewe and Burton on Trent.
In Belfast, the firm said it intends to cut 580 staff this year with another 500 expected to go in 2017 as it attempts to “optimise” the workforce.
As well as making components for executive jets, four sites in and around Belfast also produce parts for other manufacturers such as Rolls Royce .
However, by far the highest-profile department is the division responsible for developing and producing innovative composite wings for the C Series which is housed in a £520m plant officially opened in 2013 by Prime Minister David Cameron.
“We deeply regret the impact this will have on our workforce and their families, but it is crucial that we right-size our business in line with market realities,” said a statement from the Belfast management.
“We will continue to evaluate all opportunities to significantly reduce our costs, improve our competitiveness, and boost our profitability, whilst focusing on the unique capabilities that will help shape and secure our future.”
Invest NI chief executive Alastair Hamilton said he understood the reasoning behind the decision but admitted the news was “hard to hear,” and elsewhere there were calls for the Enterprise Minister Jonathan Bell and the Executive to develop a manufacturing and energy policy as a matter of urgency.
Unite the union said it was a “hammer blow” for manufacturing, adding: “While the scale of the losses reflect the severe market conditions being experienced by the group which has led to over seven thousand job losses globally, heavy manufacturers across the region continue to face challenging times.”
The latest jobs losses follow the announcement by JTI of the closure of the former Gallahers tobacco plant with the loss of 800 jobs, and the Michelin plant – both in Ballymena – with another 860 losses.
“The Northern Ireland Executive needs to redouble their efforts and secure alternative employment for those highly skilled workers who will be made redundant,” said Unite.
“Invest NI must now commit themselves fully to proactively seeking foreign investment in manufacturing.”
After a series of smaller job cuts and a plea for a wage freeze in Belfast, a joint statement from Mr Bell and Minster for Employment and Learning Stephen Farry expressed their “deep regret” at the latest news.
“First and foremost, my thoughts are with the workers and their families as they absorb today’s news,” said Mr Bell.
“While today’s news is deeply disappointing, Bombardier Inc has made it clear that the decision has been taken to safeguard the company’s long-term future globally and here in Northern Ireland.”
Dr Farry said the job losses would resonate across the economy.
“My department will be proactive in determining what steps we can take to assist employees facing redundancy to provide them with advice and guidance regarding reskilling, training and alternative employment opportunities.
“Officials will work closely with all those involved to ensure that the best advice, help and support are offered to all those affected employees.”
First and Deputy First Ministers Arlene Foster and Martin McGuinness said the news was a “devastating development”.
“While the company has made it clear their decision is as a result of inescapable global economic factors, the impact is very real for those affected, and for the wider economy.
“The Executive will make every effort to mitigate the impact of the job losses and we will work closely with Invest NI and with the Enterprise and Employment and Learning Ministers to ensure all possible avenues are explored.”
Secretary of State Theresa Villiers said the losses were “bitterly disappointing”.
“Bombardier is a major employer and these job losses will be keenly felt. I am in urgent contact with the UK Business Minister and Jonathan Bell over what immediate support might be available.”
Looking ahead, DUP MP for East Belfast, Gavin Robinson, said Bombardier remained a vital part of the economy.
Adding that he had sought a meeting with Westminster Industry Minister Anna Soubry he said: “The announcement today that Air Canada have ordered 75 C Series jets, for delivery by 2019, is a positive sign that it may be possible to mitigate these job losses to some degree.
“I hope that through positive engagement the job losses announced today might be mitigated and that Bombardier can continue to be an important part of the fabric of the city.”
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said the announcement was a “harsh blow”, adding: “The last thing the UK needs is further damage to a manufacturing industry already in recession.”
Michael Mulholland, regional officer of the GMB union, said: “These job losses will have a massive impact on the Northern Ireland economy as they will see the loss of well-paid jobs.”
Referring to the railway divisions in England, Mick Cash, leader of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union, said: “With a desperate shortage of rail rolling stock in Britain, it is criminal that jobs are being axed at the UK’s last train-building workshop in Derby.
“Contracts for train building are still being shipped overseas, risking the very future of train building in the nation that gave the railways to the world.”