Caterpillar job cuts devastating blow for manufacturing sector in Northern Ireland
Caterpillar is shutting its base outside Belfast and cutting 250 jobs in another devastating blow to Northern Ireland's ailing manufacturing sector.
The US firm is restructuring its business here as part of global cutbacks across the business.
The company is closing its base at Monkstown in Newtownabbey.
Hundreds of staff at the business's three plants were told of the development by management at 2pm yesterday.
Following the shattering news, swathes of workers left the factories in shock.
It is understood the company will have a period of consultation to determine the spread of the losses over the next two years.
The former FG Wilson business has its base at Larne, as well as operations in Monkstown and Springvale in west Belfast.
Some staff at the Monkstown facility - a sub-manufacturer of generators - will be offered work elsewhere at Caterpillar's Northern Ireland operations.
The firm said the "restructuring is part of the company's ongoing plans to reduce cost in response to current economic and business conditions".
According to staff, as part of the restructure, some work will move from Larne to Springvale while fabrication will move to Larne, from Monkstown.
Ulster Unionist MLA Steve Aiken accused Stormont of "complacency", but Economy Minister Simon Hamilton said he would "continue to work to minimise the impact on all those affected".
"Caterpillar is clearly experiencing a significant and sustained downturn in their business globally which has seen their revenues decline by 21% in the last five years," he added.
"Between April 1, 2011, and March 31, 2016, Invest NI provided more than £270m of assistance to manufacturing firms here, and I am determined to continue to support our manufacturing sector."
Esmond Birnie, PwC chief economist, said the decision was "not a Brexit story" and was "much more about a turndown in global oil".
He also indicated that, based on figures showing that the sector overall is growing, he does not believe there is a manufacturing crisis.
"Northern Ireland manufacturing has not been able to reach and maintain the productivity and competitiveness levels achieved by the rest of the UK," Mr Hamilton said.
Junior Minister Alastair Ross, a DUP MLA for East Antrim, said the company had "dramatically reduced" its workforce across the globe because of a slowdown in big markets including China and South America.
"Clearly, this is another difficult day for the Caterpillar workforce, particularly those in the Monkstown plant, with significant job losses of up to 250 employees," he added.
Invest NI boss Alastair Hamilton said the agency had been in "regular contact" with the firm since September 2015, when it announced up to 10,000 job losses across the globe.
"The scale of market decline has meant that we have not been able to alter the company's plans to consolidate its Northern Ireland operation from four to three sites, with Monkstown to close," he explained.
A spokesman for the Government said: "This is clearly a very worrying time for Caterpillar's workers. The Northern Ireland Secretary has already had discussions with the Executive on how we can work together to help prevent future losses and bring new employment opportunities to Northern Ireland."
Davy Thompson of trade union Unite said politicians had "stood idly by and did nothing to minimise the threat this posed to Caterpillar's Northern Ireland workforce".