Caterpillar could cut 250 jobs at Northern Ireland plants
Up to 250 jobs could go at US multinational Caterpillar's plants in Northern Ireland, a spokesman said.
The proposals include the possible closure of the Monkstown facility near Belfast and the consolidation of operations in Larne in Co Antrim and Springvale in Belfast.
The manufacturing firm is considering discontinuing production of 25-ton and larger material handlers in Northern Ireland, including the planned launch of large material handler models for Europe.
If finalised, production for electric power generator sets in Monkstown would be consolidated into Larne and manufacture of truck axles will move into Springvale.
A company statement said: "These actions could result in the reduction of between 200 to 250 production, support and management positions across the Northern Ireland facilities."
Caterpillar employs around 1,800 people in Northern Ireland.
It has four facilities - Larne, Monkstown, Springvale and Belfast offices beside the Springvale plant.
It makes generator sets and carries out other forms of manufacturing, including the assembly of axles for articulated trucks and the manufacture of wheeled material handlers.
It also has a shared services centre in Belfast with people employed in areas including finance and human resources.
The generator sets are used for prime and standby electric power for customers such as hospitals, utilities and data centres.
It is the latest in a series of blows to manufacturing in Northern Ireland.
JTI Tobacco and Michelin Tyres announced last year that they were closing plants in Ballymena in Co Antrim with the loss of well over 1,000 jobs and Bombardier aerospace which makes aircraft parts at a large base in Belfast is undergoing more than 1,000 redundancies this year and next.
Tom Frake, Caterpillar vice president with responsibilities for global power solutions, said: "We recognise that what we are considering is difficult for our employees, their families and the communities where they live and work.
"Despite these contemplated actions, we remain committed to Northern Ireland. In fact, these potential changes would make us more efficient and competitive over the longer term as we adapt to the weak market conditions."
Robert Kennedy, Caterpillar's director of operations in Northern Ireland, added: "The difficult actions we are considering in Northern Ireland are not a reflection of the quality of our dedicated workforce, the support of the local community, nor the business climate in Northern Ireland."
The contemplated decision to discontinue production of 25-ton and larger material handlers in Europe reflects weak economic conditions.
Some material handler design work will also be affected at Caterpillar facilities in Illinois.
The firm added: "These potential actions are consistent with Caterpillar's focus to invest in products with the greatest growth potential and best long-term returns."
Caterpillar will continue to offer material handlers below 25 tons, which are part of the wheeled excavator product line.
After consultation with employees and their representatives, any redundant employees will receive severance packages from the company and other support.
Sinn Fein Stormont Assembly member Oliver McMullan said it was a devastating blow.
"Management at the company now need to work with staff and their trade union representatives to make sure employees are kept up to date with all developments.
"They should also offer retraining or upskilling opportunities to help those losing their jobs find alternative employment. "
Unite regional co-ordinating officer Davy Thompson, whose union represents many of the workers, claimed politicians had stood idly by and did nothing to minimise the threat to Caterpillar's workforce.
"It is vital that we now see real action to safeguard as many jobs and lines of production as we can.
"The Northern Ireland Executive parties appear to believe that manufacturing is a lost cause.
"They voted down proposals for a stand-alone strategy for the sector and there's continued failure to win foreign direct investment in the sector."
Stormont funding has secured hundreds of value added jobs from abroad in the technology and financial services sector.
But manufacturing has been hard hit by cheaper competition elsewhere, improved technology and the global slump of recent years.