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Worker accuses company of fast-tracking NI plant closure


Meeting: Jackie Pollock of Unite

Meeting: Jackie Pollock of Unite

Meeting: Jackie Pollock of Unite

A worker at an engineering plant in Co Antrim which makes components for the oil industry has accused its Texan owners of "fast-tracking" closure before oil prices climb.

Schlumberger, which has plants all over the world and customers including oil giants such as Exxon Mobil and BP, announced plans to shut its plant in Newtownabbey as early as March, with the loss of 220 jobs.

But a worker, who wished to be anonymous, has accused the plant of activating closure "around four times faster than usual" - and claimed the US firm could be under pressure to repatriate jobs under the 'America first' policy of President Trump's administration.

"The general consensus of us workers is that they want to fast track the closure because they don't want it to run in line with an upturn in oil prices, which we already see signs of happening.

He added: "This will make it much harder for them to justify the closing of our facility." Oil prices have reached two-year highs of around $60 per barrel of Brent crude - a rise of around 15% over the last two years.

He said workers at the plant needed Stormont to be up and running to help save the plant.

The prospect of redunancy payments was not enough: "I speak for all the workers at our plant when I say this - no money they offer us to close is enough and we don't want a short term payout. We want job security, to be able to tell our loved ones and children Christmas is still on this year and we can still put a roof over their heads."

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The company manufactures components used in land and sea mining for oil and gas, including pistons, gauge carriers and hydraulic chambers. It also carries out assembly and testing before components are shipped out.

The worker said: "We have been situated in Northern Ireland for decades. The company was originally Camco before it was bought over by Schlumberger in 1998, and we have guys with 30 to 40 years' experience, that's unheard of in the manufacturing industry."

"The level of expertise we have is world class, and no other Schlumberger facility can even come close in comparison."

But Manufacturing NI chief executive Stephen Kelly said he did not believe the winding-down was being fast tracked. "There are a number of occasions where plants wind down in a much quicker time scale."

And he said the increase in oil prices increased the argument for keeping the plant open.

The company makes drill heads in Newtownabbey for new drilling operations. "Essentially their success depends on new gas and oil fields opening up, as they make equiment for new drilling rather than existing wells.

"The rising price of oil and gas should mean more money for investment to open up new exploration and new well heads. You would hope that would mean a rise in demand for what happens in Newtownabbey."

This week, trade union Unite held a meeting at the Newtownabbey plant. Before the meeting, Unite regional secretary Jackie Pollock said the company had indicated work would be off-shored to China, Mexico or the US. "The former two locations are renowned for their exploitative wage rates - the latter may reflect the priorities of a corporate management team who share the 'America First' perspective propounded by the current protectionist administration in power in Washington."

Schlumberger could not be reached for comment.