Belfast Telegraph

Bombardier domino effect - Northern Ireland traders fear they will be affected by blow

Trade union reps and east Belfast business owners tell Mark Bain views on latest woe

Michael Piper
Michael Piper
Jenny Workman
Susan Fitzgerald

A dark, cold, miserable afternoon in east Belfast - a day that perfectly summed up the mood in the area following the announcement that almost 500 jobs are to go at Bombardier.

Earlier this year, skies looked much brighter for the aerospace manufacturer. There was a reported 57% rise in profits coming on the back of 1,000 jobs being saved after the company won its case against huge US tariffs being slapped on their import of new passenger jets - something which threatened the very future of the business in east Belfast.

But warning signs were there over the summer when the Canadian firm said it needed to make more efficiency savings in Northern Ireland.

That announcement followed several redundancy programmes in recent years and was met with concern by the 4,000 workers in Belfast.

Yesterday, what trade union Unite called the "hammer blow", arrived.

It will hit hard and reverberate across the community.

But the threat of further redundancies echoes through the streets of east Belfast where times have been tough - and now look likely to get even tougher - with the latest cuts meaning Bombardier will have shed more than 50% of its workforce in 16 years.

Sign In

The Bishop of Down and Dromore, the Rt Revd Harold Miller, called on Bombardier to "do everything in its power to minimise compulsory redundancies and the inevitable impact upon individuals and their families".

Michael Piper runs a family fruit and veg business on Belmont Road and said the latest blow is sad for the whole area.

"We don't seem to be getting any good news," he said.

"We have a lot of customers and a lot of friends who work at Bombardier and the man in the street never seems to win.

"The mood was glum but this will make it even worse and we sit here with a joke of a government who are doing nothing to stop this downward spiral.

"I've see Tesco move in around the corner, our electricity prices are going up, our rates are going up, but jobs are now going. This community needs a boost but we're getting no help.

"My mother ran M Piper's from 1961 until the mid-80s, and even through the Troubles we had many great times and a great family business.

"To see so many people and families facing losing their jobs here again is devastating."

A few doors along, a local bakery which receives regular orders from the workers at Bombardier said the fear is that trade will start to vanish.

Jenny Workman from Elizabeth's Home Bakery said: "When I heard the news I was shocked. The workers collect orders from us every Friday and naturally the fear is that we'll lose that," she said.

"News like this doesn't help us or anyone around east Belfast. It's going to be very difficult, a time of uncertainty.

"It's sad when you see what has been happening to business recently. We look at the Primark fire and what that has done to Belfast as well. Businesses need support."

Workers leaving their shift around 3.30pm preferred to leave the talking to the unions as they headed home to digest the news with families left facing uncertainty over Christmas.

Unite's officer responsible for the Bombardier workforce Susan Fitzgerald described the news as "cruel".

She said: "It's a hammer blow for the economy.

"For workers to be told again they're standing with an axe hanging over their head a few weeks before Christmas is cruel, callous and unnecessary.

"These workers now have to go home and tell their families.

"Bombardier are seemingly never satisfied. This time last year they faced a major threat from Boeing but the workforce at Bombardier rallied and stood up and campaigned against that threat. As soon as that threat was lifted they announced redundancies.

"Now they are back for a greater pound of flesh.

"We fear this will end up being far in excess of 500 jobs.

"No one is safe."

She said the union does not intend to just accept it.

"Northern Ireland doesn't have the ability to absorb all these workers into the economy. Losing jobs on a scale like this gives us less chance of attracting new jobs and new businesses to Northern Ireland. The skills base is being eroded."

Unite's Davy Thompson called on politicians to start earning their money on behalf of the people they're supposed to serve.

"The absence of the Northern Ireland Assembly doesn't help in any shape or form," he said.

"It will be difficult for these workers to get equivalent jobs, and we expect the job loss total to be more than the 490 they have told us. We still have to talk to them about the agency work and contracting work all associated with Bombardier.

"If we have no industry, nothing else matters, not Brexit, not anything. There's no point arguing over Brexit if there's no economy left here.

"Stormont has eroded the good work of previous years and we now call on Westminster to support Northern Ireland manufacturing."

Mr Thompson said there had been an explosion of job losses across Northern Ireland - including the closure of tyre manufacturer Michelin outside Ballymena, and the Gallaher tobacco factory owned by JTI, as well as at heavy plant firm FG Wilson - with over 40% of those in manufacturing.

"Then we have to think about the massive supply chains across Ireland.

"Lots of people rely on that," he added.

"Hopefully the DUP and the other political parties will now come out and support our call for a real manufacturing strategy that isn't just for Bombardier but for the whole of Northern Ireland.

"We have to give young people hope for the future."

Belfast Telegraph