Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 28 December 2014

Northern Ireland staff in dark over Bombardier job cuts plan

1,800 posts on line worldwide as firm eyes restructuring

Things may be taking off again for Belfast planemaker Bombardier after the firm signed a deal for new aircraft which could be worth over £2bn with an Irish-based leasing company
Things may be taking off again for Belfast planemaker Bombardier after the firm signed a deal for new aircraft which could be worth over £2bn with an Irish-based leasing company

Staff at Bombardier in Belfast say they are in the dark over any plans to axe jobs across its Northern Ireland operations.

Job cuts are looming as part of a global restructuring of the Canadian firm, which could shed 1,800 positions worldwide, and there are fears local staff could be included.

Some employees at Bombardier's Airport Road premises said managers were angered after hearing news of the cuts in the media hours before staff briefings could be held at 2pm yesterday.

The redundancies are thought to be restricted to non-manucturing staff in business support areas like human resources, finance and customer service, and could be staggered over a lengthy period. Suggestions have estimated the lay-offs will affect a minimum of 15% of the indirect workforce, including office staff – amounting to nearly 1,000 workers in Northern Ireland.

Sources expressed hopes that its complementary labour force, known as CLF, including contractors, are most likely to be shed first to protect the core workforce from redundancy.

The jobs blow is in addition to the 1,700 jobs earmarked for redundancy in the planemaker's US and Canadian plants in January 2014, which Northern Ireland employees escaped.

The company's aerospace president and chief operating officer Guy Hachey has also announced plans to retire. The aerospace business will be split into three segments focused on business aircraft, commercial aircraft and aerostructures/engineering services.

Northern Ireland is most likely to come under the aerostructures division.

Bombardier officials have said it's far too early yet to know how the reconfiguration of its global concerns will affect the Northern Ireland workforce of 6,000, the majority of which are in the manufacturing sector.

A spokeswoman added: "In Belfast we handle very complex and specific manufacturing and the Belfast operations are an integral and valuable part of the Bombardier group."

A Bombardier statement appears to hint at its intention to sell or licence its engineering output to other aerospace firms.

"We are setting the stage to take full advantage of our investments and the tremendous growth potential of our new products," it said.

It added that the new division would "help us market our expertise in this field to the aerospace industry, thus generating new revenues".

The company also confirmed it would develop a "detailed implementation plan" over the next few months, and the new structure will be implemented in January.

Formerly known as Shorts Brothers, the company is headquartered at Airport Road, has a manufacturing base less than a mile away and has divisions in Dunmurry, Newtownabbey and Newtownards.

But few workers including shop-floor operators, design engineers and quality control staff expressed any great concern at losing their jobs, stating rumours emerged regularly of job cuts.

East Belfast DUP MLA Robin Newton is now seeking a meeting with senior management at the aerospace firm to seek assurances over jobs here.

"I will be seeking meeting with the management of Bombardier to identify what impact, if any, this announcement will have on Northern Ireland.

"Bombardier plants in Northern Ireland are a very successful and productive part of the global Bombardier organisation," he said.

Workers confident of seeing out crisis

Design engineer Neil Dougan (47) said most staff were “not overly concerned”, expressing what he took to be widespread belief the complementary labour force workers — or contractors — would “probably be the first to go”.

“Everyone assumes they will bear the brunt of it,” the Belfast man said.

“It is a bit of a concern, but generally we are still quite busy.”

Engineer Craig Blair from Belfast (45) said that he didn’t believe his senior managers had been made fully aware of the news by yesterday lunchtime.

“But it’s still very early days yet and we’ve been through ups and downs in the past,” he said.

Though he hadn’t been appraised of the job losses, he said there was an internal mechanism to relay information to staff.

“They will have to adhere to rules and regulations if they have to use redundancy procedures,” he said.

An employee who has worked within quality assurance for nearly 15 years feared the threat to jobs came from the current conflicts around the world.

“I think all this could be related to the trouble of terrorism at the moment; it’s bound to have a knock-on effect in the industry. It’s bound to,” he said.

“I was here when the Twin Towers were hit on 9/11 and I came very close to losing my job then, because it was a case of last in, first out and I wasn’t long here.”

He said many colleagues weren’t so lucky and found themselves without jobs.

One employee said threats to job security surfaced “every now and again”.

“You get rumours going about like this all the time but not so much in the last couple of years because of the CSeries but that’s slowed down a bit with the problems it’s had,” he said.

An employee of 36 years said: “We are due to have a briefing but haven’t been told yet. It would be alarming but until we know more we can’t really speculate.

“It’s hard to be alarmed when one minute they are telling you how well we are doing, especially after Farnborough (airshow).”

No staff were available for comment outside Bombardier’s nearby manufacturing base, about half a mile away on Airport Road.

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