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Temporary lay-off for Caterpillar's workers in Belfast

 

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Angela McGowan

Angela McGowan

D James Umpleby III, CEO of Caterpillar

D James Umpleby III, CEO of Caterpillar

Angela McGowan

Approximately140 staff at Caterpillar's plant in west Belfast are to be furloughed as the factory closes for three weeks.

A spokesman for the US-owned equipment giant confirmed the plant would close temporarily from next Monday until April 24.

However, the Larne headquarters of Caterpillar, where generators for hospitals, telecoms and food factories are made, will remain open.

It is understood around 140 staff are affected by the closure of the site at Springvale in west Belfast.

They will be placed on the Government's job retention scheme. It provides for staff who have been temporarily laid-off to be paid 80% of their wages by the government.

A spokesman for Caterpillar said: "The Caterpillar assembly facility in Springvale will temporarily suspend production from Monday, April 6 through Friday, April 24. Impacted employees will now be furloughed in line with the UK Government Job Retention Scheme for this entire period."

Springvale manufactures items such as axles for large trucks produced by the US company, which is led by D James Umpleby III.

It is understood the reopening date of April 24 will be kept under review.

Caterpillar is the latest company in Northern Ireland to lay-off staff in large numbers.

The move to temporarily shut the Springvale site follows challenges of supply and falling demand for its products.

The company has a total workforce of 1,661 people, according to its latest published accounts, for 2018. Caterpillar NI said an expansion of activity at Springvale that year had led to growth in turnover, while the headcount at the site had grown.

The company reported turnover of £509m for 2018 but suffered a loss of £15.1m. A strategic report said that its generator business had faced challenging market conditions, with profitability impacted by costs relating to consolidating manufacturing in Larne.

Pressure has been growing on manufacturing companies who are not producing "essential goods" to close their doors during the coronavirus crisis to safeguard their staff.

The Executive has set up an engagement forum of trade unions and business bodies such as the CBI, as well as statutory agencies such as the Public Health Agency and the Health and Safety Executive, to advise the Executive on how to proceed.

Earlier this week, Ulster Carpets in Portadown announced it would be winding down its operations. The company said: "As a consequence of the deteriorating Covid-19 pandemic situation in Northern Ireland, continuing to follow scientific advice and in line with our company contingency planning, we have decided to initiate a run down of some elements of our production until further notice."

Writing in this week's Business Telegraph, CBI NI regional director Angela McGowan said companies needed clarity from the Executive on whether they should stay open or close temporarily.

She said: "Updating guidance on essential businesses will help NI firms ensure essential products and services keep going, while prioritising employee safety.

"Clarity will also help the public and family members of critical workers to understand just how important these employees are."

Ms McGowan added protecting employees' lives and livelihoods were the number one priority for firms.

"The vast majority of businesses are working as quickly as they can to adapt to the changing rules that have come in recent days," she added.

"At the same time, many firms in critical sectors like food production have implemented significant changes in the workforce to keep their employees safe and essential products and services flowing."

Earlier this week, Quinn Industrial Holdings in Derrylin, Co Fermanagh, announced that it was laying off 600 workers and putting them on the government's job retention scheme.

Belfast Telegraph