More than 600 jobs are set to be lost at Bombardier’s aircraft manufacturing plant in Belfast amid the severe downturn in the aviation industry.
The planned redundancies include around 400 core staff members and 200-plus contractors that also work at the operation.
Bombardier Aviation blamed the “extraordinary industry interruptions and challenges” caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Stormont First Minister Arlene Foster said the impact of job losses would reach far into the local community, while Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill described it as a “bodyblow” to the region’s economy.
It comes a week after 500 proposed redundancies were announced at another Northern Ireland aerospace company, Thompson Aero Seating.
There will be a 90-day consultation period on the proposed core staff redundancies.
If 600-plus jobs are lost it will reduce the workforce to around 2,900.
Last week Bombardier announced plans for 2,500 redundancies across its worldwide aviation operations.
It cited an anticipated 30% drop in the sale of its jets.
The workforce at Bombardier in Belfast was informed of the plans on Thursday morning.
A Bombardier spokeswoman said: “Bombardier Aviation announced last week that it would adjust its workforce to align with current market conditions reflecting the extraordinary industry interruptions and challenges caused by Covid-19.
“We have now reviewed our requirements in Belfast for all of our aircraft programmes and regret to confirm that we must adjust our core workforce levels downwards by around 400 to align with market demand for the remainder of this year and through 2021.
“Around 400 Bombardier core employee jobs in Northern Ireland are currently at risk of redundancy. The company will be lodging a formal HR1 redundancy notice with the Department for the Economy, following which there will be a 90-day consultation period when we will explore opportunities to mitigate the number of redundancies.
“We deeply regret the impact this will have on our workforce and their families, but it is crucial that we resize our business in line with market realities in these unprecedented circumstances.”
A Bombardier spokeswoman later confirmed the company would also be “gradually releasing” members of its Complementary Labour Force (CLF) over the coming months.
Bombardier has more than 200 CLF contractors working in Belfast.
Trade union representatives expressed concern at the announcements.
Susan Fitzgerald, from the Unite union, called on the Stormont Executive to urgently develop a strategy to safeguard the under-pressure aviation sector.
“Today’s announcement of 600 job losses is a huge blow to the Bombardier workforce, their families and the economy of Northern Ireland as a whole,” she said.
“Unite will do whatever it takes to support these workers but the reality is that every worker will be going home today in uncertainty and concerned for their future.
“Bombardier jobs are high-value-added, unionised jobs. The money these workers spend and the supply chain demand from this business plays a vital role in the Northern Ireland economy.
“Redundancies on this scale will have a devastating impact across the board but in the face of mounting threats to the aerospace sector as a whole, all we have seen is complete inaction from the Stormont Executive.
GMB members in Bombardier are coming to terms with the news of a further 600 jobs haemorrhaging from NI. We need urgent political intervention to retain jobs and skills if our economy has any prospect of recovery pic.twitter.com/JhWeTCDnkV— GMB Northern Ireland (@GMBNI) June 11, 2020
“Governments in many other countries have announced major interventions to safeguard jobs and skills.
“France has just announced a 16 billion euro (£14.4 billion) programme for their aerospace and aviation sectors to safeguard jobs, from engineers to airline and airport staff.
“Similar measures are needed at a UK and Northern Ireland level. Unless a specific support package is brought forward soon, including measures such as an aircraft scrappage scheme, then thousands of jobs will be lost and the UK will lose its standing as a world leader in aerospace.
“Public money invested to secure this industry would be recouped through the taxes and contributions of all those who would otherwise be forced onto dole queues and could be matched with equity-stakes and tied to a transition to greener aircraft.
“The action to save this sector needs to come from government. Where is Stormont’s strategy to safeguard aerospace from the Covid downturn?”
GMB senior organiser, Denise Walker, added: “The news of 600 job losses will be devastating to workers at Bombardier and casts a shadow of uncertainty over the entire aerospace sector in Northern Ireland.
“Today’s job losses will be felt by every member of our unions – it is a bitter blow.
“Northern Ireland Aerospace is one of Europe’s leading aerospace regions in revenue terms – this is not a sector where a complacent laissez-faire approach from Stormont will pass. We need to see real action to safeguard jobs, skills and a future.”
Mrs Foster and Ms O’Neill insisted they were doing what they could for the sector. They said efforts were under way to protect and develop supply chains and support and advice would be offered to redundant workers.
“I think it’s unfair to say that we haven’t been engaged on this issue, we’ve all known that there are huge challenges in aviation right across the world,” Mrs Foster said, noting a 90% drop in worldwide airline travel.
“But let’s be honest, in terms of building the sector up again in terms of people flying across the world in the manner they were in January of this year, it’s going to take some time.”
Ms O’Neill said the Executive would “not be found wanting” in working with Bombardier to try to find a way forward.
“The job losses that have been announced today at Bombardier is another body blow to our local economy,” she said.
“We all understand that the pandemic has massively curtailed international travel. Arlene talked about the 90% drop (in travel) so that’s going to be significant for any industry to be able to survive that.”