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Engineering firm to shed 98 workers

By Emily Moulton

Northern Ireland’s struggling manufacturing industry was dealt another major blow last night after engineering company Hughes Christensen announced it was making further job cuts at its east Belfast plant.

The US-owned company, which makes drill bits for the oil and gas drilling industry, said it was planning to slash up to 98 jobs following a fall in worldwide drilling activity in the oil services sector.

The decision is likely to cause widespread distress amongst its workforce, which has had to endure two rounds of job cuts this year.

In February the company first announced it was slashing 45 jobs as a result of the global recession. Then in April, management announced it was making a further 90 people redundant during the same week that saw the country lose 2% of its workforce.

In a statement, the plant’s parent company Baker Hughes said following an “extensive review” of its manufacturing capacity and alignment of production facilities it had decided to move part of its production to the US.

“One outcome of this review is the proposal that all small tricone drill bit production currently performed at Hughes Christensen Belfast, will be transferred to the Woodlands Texas facility, leaving the Belfast plant to focus on the manufacture of medium and large tricone drill bits for the world market, and PDC drill bits for the Eastern Hemisphere,” it said.

“We have approximately 280 employees in Belfast and anticipate that, of those, up to 98 positions could be affected.

“We are committed to responding to potentially affected employees in a sensitive, respectful and responsible manner, at what we fully appreciate is a difficult time.”

UUP Castlereagh councillor Michael Copeland said he was devastated for the workers and their families who will be affected by the losses.

“I am just heartbroken for the skills workers who yet again find that as a result of the recession jobs in Belfast go elsewhere,” he said.

“It’s 98 reasonably well-paid highly skilled jobs and wages out of the local economy. It’s an absolutely horrible situation for anyone to have to find themselves in.”

East Belfast UUP MLA Sir Reg Empey also expressed his shock and concern over the expected 98 job cuts.

“Following significant job losses earlier this year and the recovering demand for oil, it was anticipated that the worst was over for this sector. Now a consultation begins on a further 98 potential job losses at Castlereagh,” he said.

“This is bad news for the area, and it is very hard to replace these good quality manufacturing jobs.”

“I have been aware that a number of workers from Belfast have recently been in Texas. Perhaps this was part of the 'restructuring' plan to which the company refers. Clearly there will be increased anxiety about the future, and I hope that the company will move quickly to reassure the workforce about their future intentions for the Castlereagh plant.”

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