Pay stalemate at Bombardier as union rejects changes
Agreement on pay and conditions must be reached between aerospace giant Bombardier and its workforce to ensure the future of the company's operation here, it has been claimed.
The manufacturer is set to remain in talks with trade union Unite after its membership rejected a proposal to alter wages and working conditions.
The beleaguered plane-maker had asked its 5,000-strong workforce here to accept a pay freeze amid a "serious financial crisis" at the firm, which has faced lower orders than anticipated for its new CSeries jet, the wings of which are built in Belfast.
The Canadian company is attempting to cut costs by a fifth over the next two years as it battles tough market conditions for the troubled programme, which is three years delayed and £1bn over-budget.
Bombardier has 243 orders for the narrow-bodied jet - short of the target of 300.
The aircraft is aimed at a passenger market dominated by Airbus and Boeing.
Other suggestions put to the workforce included an extension of the working week to 37 hours, with workers putting in an extra hour every Friday.
But trade union Unite said its membership had voted against the pay proposal.
Stephen Kelly, chief executive of lobby group Manufacturing NI, added: "It's clear Bombardier is facing some very serious issues, and it has to find 20% in savings by 2017 in Belfast.
"These are good, well-paid and important jobs, and we would hope that some way forward can be found.
"What are the other options for a labour-intensive business to find that level of savings? It really doesn't bear thinking about."
Mr Kelly pointed out that Northern Ireland had recent experience of losing out on "good manufacturing jobs", with the announcement that tyre giant Michelin is closing its Ballymena site in 2018, with 860 jobs lost.
"We don't want to see any more, but unless agreement can be found I'm not sure what the options are," he said.
Davy Thompson from Unite insisted the union had not influenced members either way.
"Unite negotiators were asked to ballot on a pay offer from management which would seek cuts to workers' terms and conditions and leave them dependent on a performance-related bonus for an improvement in their incomes," he said. "While we recognise that Bombardier faces exceptional cashflow pressures, the membership of Unite has exercised their democratic right in relation to this offer. We will now seek to engage with management."
A spokesman for Bombardier said cost reductions were crucial to protect its operations here.
"The company very much regrets that the offer it tabled aimed at cutting costs and contributing to the competitiveness of our Northern Ireland operations was not accepted by the workforce," he added. "It is vital that we reduce our costs significantly if we are to sustain our business here and ultimately protect jobs in the long term.
"The company remains open to engaging with the trade unions in order to find a resolution. We will continue to look at measures to reduce our costs and improve our competitiveness."
Bombardier recently received a $1bn (£660m) bailout from the provincial government in Quebec to help the CSeries programme. But Michael Ryan, general manager of the Belfast factory, said this week that the move posed no threat to operations here.
Number of orders for the company's CSeries jet, well short of its 300 target