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Northern Ireland manufacturing calls for wages pledge after industry 'thrown into ocean' by coronavirus

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Stephen Kelly of Manufacturing NI

Stephen Kelly of Manufacturing NI

The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak

The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak

PA

Stephen Kelly of Manufacturing NI

The manufacturing industry in Northern Ireland has been "thrown into the ocean" by the coronavirus outbreak, a trade body has said.

Manufacturing NI said that it must be able "to place our feet on the solid sea floor in order to push ourselves up to safety".

The organisation has called on the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, to "remove public panic" by guaranteeing a liveable wage before the end of the week.

It is one of 10 measures the trade body has said must be put in place by the government in the coming weeks in order for the manufacturing industry in Northern Ireland to survive the impact of the Covid-19 outbreak.

Setting out the 10 steps that are required, Stephen Kelly, chief executive of Manufacturing NI, said: "We all need safety rings and ropes to stop us from drowning. We also need some hope that a rescue is on the way, that will motivate us all to keep kicking.

"For that, the Chancellor needs to step in this week and support payroll - guarantees that there is an income floor will remove the stress and the panic in the workforce and the community.

"It need not be fully worked out, but seeing a rescue vessel is on the way is enough to keep going, to take the right decisions and to plan for the future."

The measures Manufacturing NI wants to see include the guarantee that people will receive a living wage in the months ahead.

The organisation said this can be done by ensuring workers are put "to productive use".

Mr Kelly said it is imperative that government buys from manufacturing firms and doesn't just provide hand-outs.

He also called on Mr Sunak to provide a list of what items are required so that businesses can repurpose and contribute to the fight to save lives and keep the economy going.

He continued: "Employ labour requirements elsewhere in public services through existing employers.

The organisation also urged Mr Sunak to announce a rolling three-month deferment on VAT, PAYE and NIC payments and to tell insurers they must meet the obligations he has already outlined.

He added: "Get the communication right, people need trusted, consistent advice and assured that help is on the way.

"We need people to keep working, keep shopping, keep focused on getting to safety."

The possibility that the manufacturing industry could play a key role in efforts to help society cope with the Covid-19 pandemic is being looked at by officials.

The Health Minister has said manufacturers should consider switching production lines to further increase the number of ventilators available.

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