Manufacturing in Northern Ireland has largely closed down with at 81% of firms putting staff on furlough as a result of Covid-19, according to a key survey.
Trade group Manufacturing NI said it had asked 206 members about the impact of the virus and subsequent lockdown, with large numbers saying they’d put at least some staff on furlough.
Its chief executive Stephen Kelly said the findings showed “we are fighting not only a public health emergency but an economic emergency too”.
With most manufacturers located outside Belfast and Derry, there was a risk that towns and country areas would be worst affected by a downturn in manufacturing.
And measures by the NI Executive and UK government to protect firms had only delayed a major economic crash, Mr Kelly said.
More than three-quarters of those surveyed are using cash from the business to sustain employment and other costs - with a small number even using savings and pensions to get by.
But the worst problem for firms was lack of certainty around the jobs retention scheme, a government measure whereby it will refund 80% of wage costs to companies who can no longer operate.
Mr Kelly said the survey found that around 70% of respondents had furloughed more than half their workers, while one in four had completely closed. And 60% had furloughed over three-quarters of staff.
Mr Kelly said: “In whole parts of the sector there is no active production taking place. The manufacturer sector is largely closed down.”
There was concern that the job retention scheme just a short-term fix, Mr Kelly said.
“We have to be deeply concerned that we will be unable to restart the sector if we leave the lock down for too long. With most manufacturing taking place outside of the cities (83% of respondents), this must sound alarm bells for the economic health of provincial and rural communities in the months ahead.”
He said uncertainty about the furlough scheme would persist until it opens on April 20.
“It is critical that the Government stand over their commitment to support all firms who took their advice since March 20 and guarantee the furlough payments. To renege on this jeopardises the short and long term future of a huge part of the sector.”