Executive urged to develop an industrial strategy
Manufacturers are taking their case to Stormont to urge the Executive to create a dedicated strategy to boost the sector and tackle huge job losses.
Manufacturing NI and Unite are joining to launch a joint campaign calling on the Northern Ireland Executive to adopt an industrial strategy.
Economy Minister Simon Hamilton has ruled out any form of dedicated manufacturing plan.
He told the Belfast Telegraph last month: "We have a strategy for the economy. It includes manufacturing. That's why manufacturing output rose by 2.4% in the past 12 months, and we have the highest number employed in the sector since pre-downturn."
But Stephen Kelly, chief executive of Manufacturing NI, said: "Northern Ireland's manufacturing sector employs more than 85,000 and contributes more than £18bn in sales, of which £14bn are external.
"An opportunity exists to do more, so it is vitally important that our politicians adopt an ambitious approach to create the conditions which will allow manufacturing to grow to 20% of the Northern Ireland economy, creating jobs, increasing investment and quickly assisting the Executive to deliver a rebalanced economy which benefits the entire region. We need an industrial strategy to ensure that high-value added manufacturing stays on the agenda, that there is real action to lower energy and transport costs and to win foreign direct investment.
Unite regional secretary Jimmy Kelly added: "Northern Ireland has lost 6,000 jobs in manufacturing over the past two years - these were among the best paid jobs in the region and will not be easily replaced by jobs of an equivalent value."
Earlier this year, a report warned that more than 6,000 jobs could be lost across Northern Ireland's manufacturing sector over the next decade as companies became more efficient and increased their use of technology.
But the study, carried out by Manufacturing NI and Oxford Economics, predicted the industry itself would grow in size, despite headcount falling.
Northern Ireland has been hit with a number of major job losses over the past year.
In September, US-owned Caterpillar revealed it was closing its Monkstown site and letting 250 staff go.
Meanwhile, 1,080 jobs are going at Canadian-owned aerospace giant Bombardier, around 860 posts are set to go at Ballymena's Michelin, and a similar number have been lost at cigarette-maker JTI Gallaher.
Mr Kelly said that while "we recognise that the Executive is working to support the success of some leading manufacturers, this needs to be more consistent and applied across the entire sector".
"We need a different approach to procurement to ensure it works for local suppliers and efforts to grow supply-chains networks across the whole of Northern Ireland as well as enhanced allowances to encourage a step-change in capital investment," he added.
"Representatives of workers and employers are coming together to demand the Executive takes a more comprehensive approach to growing the sector."