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115 jobs could go as axe looms at Arntz

Northern Ireland's ailing manufacturing industry has been dealt its first blow of 2010 after it emerged that Londonderry-based Arntz Belting is set to close with the loss of 115 jobs.

Arntz Belting has made timing belts for vehicles and machinery in Derry for more than 40 years.

The company, owned by German firm Arntz Optibelt, has entered a 90-day consultation with employees on the likely closure of the plant at Pennyburn Pass. However its Letterkenny base is unaffected.

Arntz Managing director Robert Moore said: "I met last week with the board of the parent company in Germany. The group as a whole has suffered from a substantial reduction in orders over the last year. Unfortunately this has a direct consequence for the Northern Ireland plant and closure is an option which has not been easily arrived at," he said.

The beleaguered firm has informed Invest Northern Ireland and will work with the Government to help people into employment or to retrain, he added. While the company is an Invest NI client, it has not received funding since the 1990s and there are no clawback issues because all obligations have been fulfilled.

Speculation that production at the factory would cease has been circulating since the middle of last year.

Phil Oakley from trade union Unite said it looked like there was "virtually no hope" of the factory surviving. "The company has indicated there is slim to no chance of the order book picking up within the 90 days so we envisage it will be a total plant closure," he said. Manufacturing has been decimated in the NorthWest in recent years, with thousands of jobs lost.

Bryan Gray from Northern Ireland Manufacturing said the Arntz situation confirms there is more pain to come.

"Many more of our members feel that the promised recovery is not arriving. We feel it is likely that we will see significantly more job losses in the first half of 2010," he said.

"We hope to meet with local politicians shortly to discuss what active steps can be taken to support manufacturing jobs."

Arntz has been gradually reducing the size of its workforce in Derry. In 2005 it employed 240 people and a year ago still had 170 staff.

While it did not name sites, the parent company said last year it was investigating the possible closure of two of its factories. Sinn Fein MLA Martina Anderson said the news was devastating for Arntz workers.

"Last October I called on the company to come clean with the staff after I had been informed that they were planning to close the factory in March. I also raised the situation with the Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster who assured me she would intervene 'when appropriate'.

"That time has clearly come and I have today called on the minister to intervene in order to ensure that all appropriate government departments and agencies work together to assist the Arntz workforce in securing alternative employment or re-training," she said.