Belfast Telegraph

440 jobs lost in ‘devastating blow for Northern Ireland’ as Williams closes and NIE axes posts

By Margaret Canning and John Mulgrew

Northern Ireland is losing 440 jobs as two companies shut up shop and another slashes its workforce.

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Williams Industrial Services (WIS), which employed 145 people in Mallusk, has been put into administration with most of its workforce made redundant straight away after it ran out of funds.  Energy firm NIE Networks has also said it is cutting 90 jobs.

And a trade union claimed that French oil services firm Schlumberger would be going ahead with the closure of its site, which employs 205 people in Newtownabbey.

Combined with the loss of 270 jobs announced on January 27 over the planned closure of Kilroot power station by energy company AES, it means Northern Ireland will see 700 jobs go in the next few months.

UUP finance spokesman Steve Aiken MLA said the 440 job losses announced yesterday were devastating.

"These are exactly the type of highly skilled manufacturing jobs which Northern Ireland simply cannot afford to lose," he commented.

He called on the Department for the Economy to take "urgent action to help the workforces affected by the announcements".

Stephen Kelly, managing director at lobby group Manufacturing NI, said trade unions and management at the Schlumberger plant at Newtownabbey had made "great efforts" to convince its parent company to keep the site open.

But he said he was "shocked" at the speed of the job losses at WIS, which specialised in water-treatment and anaerobic digestion technology.

Its chairman John Toner said: "Having explored all possible rescue options, it is with deep regret that the directors have had to take steps to have the company placed into administration."

Stephen Cave, an administrator at PwC, said: "The company ran into a number of commercial issues on some of its key contracts in recent months, culminating in contractual disputes which had a significant and adverse impact on trading cash flow.

"Despite endeavours to resolve the matters and secure a way forward, the company ran out of funds, leaving the directors facing the decision to enter administration.

"Whilst we are urgently reviewing the company's financial and trading position, we have unfortunately had to make the majority of the workforce redundant with immediate effect."

It is believed workers at Schlumberger could be out as early as the first week of April, but the plant may not close until around June. In a statement, the company said: "Following an extensive consultation period, it is with great regret that Schlumberger can confirm that the centre will cease production around June 2018. The Belfast facility has been in our company for almost 20 years and has been valued for its expertise and dedicated workforce.

"The decision to close the centre has not been made lightly, and multiple options and proposals were considered. Due to the prolonged industry downturn, we have had to restructure our manufacturing organisation in line with current and anticipated future activity which has resulted in closures in the Americas, Europe and Asia."

Susan Fitzgerald, Unite regional officer at Schlumberger, said the company had rejected its proposal for keeping the site open. "The proposal would have resulted in a significant increase in operating utilisation rates but was rejected by a corporate management who remain intent on off-shoring production to low cost centres in Mexico and China and back to the United States."

Around 90 jobs look set to go at Northern Ireland Electricity amid "efficiency" plans across the business. NIE has said it has been in discussions with trade unions "on a number of measures to drive operating efficiency within its business and to deliver a good value service to all electricity customers".

It said this "includes proposals to reduce the number of job roles by 90 across the business".

Trade union GMB said it has been advised by senior management within NIE that it will be entering into a 30-day consultation regarding reductions in its workforce. It employs around 1,250 people.

Belfast Telegraph