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Bombardier job cuts ominous for future

Editor's Viewpoint

Published 12/08/2016

Bombardier is facing a tough time in an uncertain global airline market
Bombardier is facing a tough time in an uncertain global airline market

News that Bombardier, by far Northern Ireland's largest manufacturing operation, is exporting jobs from the province to low cost countries including Morocco and Mexico, is bound to set alarm bells ringing among the workforce.

By the end of next year the Canadian-headquartered company will have shed 1,080 jobs in Northern Ireland from a total workforce of around 5,300 as part of its global restructuring caused by slow sales of its flagship C-Series airliner. The irony is that the company has received orders for 75 of the jets, perhaps signalling an upturn in its fortunes just as workers here experience a downturn in theirs.

Announcing the 20% reduction in the workforce in February, the company said it could not rule out further job losses in the coming years and there is no doubt that having invested heavily in the C-Series, Bombardier is now keen to expand its operations in lower cost centres which Northern Ireland simply cannot compete with.

The planned job losses are estimated to cost the local economy £25m, and coming after the closure of Michelin and JTI Gallaher and substantial cutbacks at FG Wilson and Shrader Electronics, the manufacturing sector here has been left reeling.

There is also the knock-on effect of the job losses. It is estimated that every one manufacturing job supports another 1.5 jobs in the wider economy, including the supply chain, meaning that up to 2,500 workers will be hit by the Bombardier decision.

While it has to be admitted the Bombardier has invested heavily in its Northern Ireland operations, it has also received generous Government aid - £75m between 2002 and 2015 - and it would be expected to show a continuing commitment to the province in return. It has to be remembered that Bombardier at one time employed more than 8,000 people here.

And many in east Belfast will look at the empty former shipyard and wonder if another landmark employer will also continue to fade away.

The problems of Bombardier pose even greater problems for the devolved administration at Stormont. The task now is to attract high-value manufacturing operations which are more reliant on available skills than on low production costs. If Brexit, as its proponents argue, makes it easier for Northern Ireland to gain investment, worldwide then it is time that ministers here began the search for those investors.

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