Belfast Telegraph

Workforce 'concerns' after Rockwell Collins sold off in £18bn international deal

By John Mulgrew

Concerns have been raised that the $23bn (£18bn) takeover of US airline parts manufacturer Rockwell Collins could affect its 800-strong workforce at its plant in Kilkeel.

Rockwell Collins, formerly B/E Aerospace, has now been sold to United Technologies (UTC), which already owns engine maker Pratt & Whitney.

And UTC has already identified $500m (£385m) in cost-savings as part of the deal, which will be one of the biggest in aviation history.

But trade union Unite said that 'so-called cost synergies' would mean "rationalisations that will increase profit".

Regional officer Susan Fitzgerald added: "To workers that will raise fears of site closures, redundancies and the potential of off-shoring."

The firm's Co Down workforce produces aircraft cabin seats. Earlier this year, B/E Aerospace was bought by Rockwell Collins.

At the time, a Rockwell Collins spokesman said the change in ownership of B/E Aerospace would have little effect on the Northern Ireland workforce.

However, SDLP MLA Sinead Bradley said that the scale of the latest deal "even by global standards, is hugely significant and has been described as one of the largest aviation deals in history".

"The SDLP has already set about communicating with those charged with closing this deal to garner support for and to secure the long term viability of the 800 jobs currently held in the Kilkeel base," she said.

"The significance of these jobs to our economy is vital, particularly as we face the uncertainties of Brexit. It is therefore critical we ensure they are safeguarded."

The Kilkeel facility had been owned by B/E Aerospace since 1993. Last year the plant announced a contract to supply three seat classes to American Airlines' A350 Airbus fleet.

DUP MLA Jim Wells said that the announcement of the sale has "created uncertainty amongst the 800 staff currently employed at its Moor Road site in the town".

"I am relieved to note there is no overlap between the product lines of UTC and B/E Aerospace, but I will be contacting the new owner seeking an assurance that there will be no job losses at the Kilkeel factory," he said.

Unite's Susan Fitzgerald, who deals with the firm's union members, said it "is vital to safeguard these jobs and defend the pay, terms and conditions of its workers against any pressures arising from today's announcement".

"The aerospace industry operates within a highly competitive global market which has become even more challenging as a result of the downturn from the great recession that started in 2008," she said.

"Orders have begun to pick up in the last couple of years across the sector and Rockwell Collins has been able to make a substantial profit from the combination of a skilled, dedicated workforce and lower cost base in Kilkeel.

"Unite has been actively engaging union colleagues at other Rockwell Collins sites across the world to secure jobs and pay and any likely impact arising from a UTC takeover.

"We will seek to continue and broaden this engagement.

"There is no immediate threat to jobs at Kilkeel from today's announcement, and we should be well-positioned to weather out any storm but we will be keeping a watching brief on developments as they play out."

In 2016, aerospace giant Bombardier revealed it was cutting around 1,080 jobs across its Northern Ireland workforce.

Belfast Telegraph

Weekly Business Digest Newsletter

This week's business news headlines, directly to your inbox every Tuesday.