Belfast Telegraph

Bombardier Belfast sale comes in wake of annus horribilis for workforce

Unite the union, which represents the majority of workers employed by Bombardier at five sites in Northern Ireland, held a press conference on its response to the announcement Picture By: Arthur Allison/Pacemaker Press
Unite the union, which represents the majority of workers employed by Bombardier at five sites in Northern Ireland, held a press conference on its response to the announcement Picture By: Arthur Allison/Pacemaker Press
The Bombardier Aerospace plant in Belfast (Niall Carson/PA)
Ryan McAleer

By Ryan McAleer

Canadian aerospace giant Bombardier has announced it plans to sell its aerostructures business in Belfast.

The Montreal based group has also announced plans to sell its operation in Morocco. Around 4,000 people are employed in the east Belfast plant.

No new redundancies have been announced and Bombardier has said it is committed to finding the right buyer.

Bombardier is already embarking on a series of cost-cutting measures within its Northern Ireland business. In November it announced plans to shed 490 jobs, which would leave its workforce at 3,600, around half of what it was five years ago.

LIVE: Unite the Union react to Bombardier sell-off announcement

Posted by Belfast Telegraph on Thursday, May 2, 2019

In a statement the company said: “Our sites in Belfast and Morocco have seen a significant increase in work from other global customers in recent years.  We are recognised as a global leader in aerostructures, with unique end-to-end capabilities – through design and development, testing and manufacture, to after-market support.

“Bombardier is committed to finding the right buyer – one that will operate responsibly and help us achieve our full growth potential.

“We understand that this announcement may cause concern among our employees, but we will be working closely with them and our unions as matters progress, and through any future transition period to a new owner.

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“There are no new workforce announcements as a result of this decision, but our management team will continue to drive ongoing transformation initiatives to improve productivity and increase our competitiveness, to give more weight to our unique value proposition to potential buyers.”

"Bombardier jobs are absolutely vital to Northern Ireland’s economy and its time workers were treated with the respect they deserve. Michael Mulholland

The Belfast plant specialises in aircraft components, engine nacelles and manufactures wings for the A220 aircraft. Airbus took a majority stake in the narrow body jet series in July 2018.

Bombardier bought the Short Brothers operation in 1989. The original company dates back to London in 1908, but Shorts started building aircraft in Belfast in 1936.

The facility became increasingly important during World War Two and by 1948, Shorts became a Belfast company in its entirety.

Business Secretary Greg Clark described the Belfast plant as one of the "most important aerospace facilities in the country" at a "vital asset" to the sector.

“The Belfast plant, its expertise and its highly skilled and dedicated staff will be highly sought after - the Government will work with potential buyers to take this successful and ambitious business forward," he added.

In response to the announcement, trade union GMB, which represents many Bombardier employees, said it was demanding the company provide reassurances over the future of its workers in Northern Ireland.

“Our members – and their families - have already suffered a terrible year," said GMB organiser Michael Mulholland.

“After months of uncertainty following Trump’s tariffs – they were then hit with the news of 490 job losses - and now this.

"Bombardier jobs are absolutely vital to Northern Ireland’s economy and its time workers were treated with the respect they deserve. GMB will be meeting reps today and over the next few days to discuss next steps."

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CBI NI director Angela McGowan

CBI NI Director Angela McGowan said  “The standout reputation of Bombardier’s Belfast operations augers well for attracting the right buyer.  What’s clear is that this decision to sell is no reflection on the excellent performance of the Belfast plant employees. Bombardier are committed to finding a buyer that will continue to invest in the Belfast-based business over the long-term and support the Northern Irish economy.

Jackie Pollock of Unite the Union said: "It doesn’t matter whose name is above the gate – what matters is that we safeguard jobs and skills in this critical industry.

It is critical that those most affected by this announcement are offered certainty about their long-term security in the time ahead and supported throughout any transition process when a buyer is identified. Colum Eastwood

"The UK government must stand ready to ensure the retention of jobs and skills at these sites, Bombardier is simply too important to the Northern Ireland economy to allow anything less.

“Bombardier workers in Northern Ireland are among the most highly-skilled workers in the sector globally – we produce a world class product here with a world-class workforce.

"Whoever the buyer is there’s an undeniable case for investment to not only sustain but expand production and employment into the future.”

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DUP leader Arlene Foster

DUP leader Arlene Foster said Bombardier is an "integral" part of the Northern Ireland economy and said that, while the firm has recognised an increase in orders, the news would be unsettling for staff.

"I have spoken today with Michael Ryan from Bombardier. It is welcome that there have been no workforce implications in relation to this announcement and both staff and the company can be assured of any support locally or in London which might assist them at this time,” she added.

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SDLP leader Colum Eastwood

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said he will be meeting with Bombardier representatives "as soon as possible" in a bid to secure assurances for workers.

“It is critical that those most affected by this announcement are offered certainty about their long-term security in the time ahead and supported throughout any transition process when a buyer is identified," he added.

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Michelle O'Neill

Sinn Fein deputy leader Michelle O'Neill said the announcement was "hugely concerning" for the workers affected and Northern Ireland's wider economy.

“I have spoken this morning to company Chief Executive Michael Ryan and Sinn Féin has already been in contact with representatives of Unite the Union and workers representatives," she added.

If ever there was a need to get the devolved administration to be back up and running and to support our manufacturing sector, it is now. Steve Aiken

“I will also be meeting with the Head of the Civil Service and the Department for the Economy to discuss what can be done to help find a buyer in order to protect the jobs at the Belfast plant."

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Naomi Long, leader of the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland (Liam McBurney/PA)

Alliance leader Naomi Long said: “The focus now has to be on finding a buyer committed to maintaining and developing manufacturing on the Belfast site to secure not just Bombardier jobs but those reliant on being part of the company’s supply chain across Northern Ireland."

Ulster Unionist MLA Steven Aiken said Bombardier has had a "proud history both in aerospace and in Northern Ireland" and work must to done to ensure the industry thrives in the future.

“It goes without saying that without a devolved administration or even a manufacturing or industrial strategy for Northern Ireland, there is a lack of vision for the future," he added. 

"If ever there was a need to get the devolved administration to be back up and running and to support our manufacturing sector, it is now.”

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