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Future of NI aerospace industry 'in the balance' as Bombardier axes 400 jobs

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Major job losses in 2020.

Major job losses in 2020.

Major job losses in 2020.

The future of the aerospace sector here "hangs in the balance" in the aftermath of Covid-19 after suffering 1,100 job losses here within one week.

Bombardier in east Belfast yesterday announced it is seeking to make 400 voluntary redundancies among its core staff, as well as "releasing" 200 temporary workers.

It means that the company is losing nearly 20% of its 3,500-strong workforce.

Last week, Portadown aeroplane seat manufacturer Thompson Aero announced 500 redundancies.

In total, around 2,000 manufacturing and aviation-related jobs have been lost in Northern Ireland since the start of the year.

Covid-19 triggered a global crisis in aviation as lockdown led to fleets of planes being grounded.

In March, at least 100 people in Northern Ireland lost their jobs following the collapse of regional airline Flybe.

The aerospace sector here employs around 10,000 people in total, including smaller firms that will take a huge hit from the downsizing in bigger companies.

Yesterday First Minister Arlene Foster defended the Executive against accusations of not doing enough to support the sector.

She said she and Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill had spoken to Bombardier Northern Ireland boss Michael Ryan twice this week.

But she said Northern Ireland was now experiencing the "aftershocks" of worldwide disruption to flying.

She added: "I think it's unfair to say we haven't been engaged on this issue and we have all known there are huge issues with aviation right across the world... Rolls-Royce laid off 9,000 people some weeks ago in response to what's happening in the aviation sector.

"Unfortunately, we have seen Thompson Aero do something similar because flying is down by 90% so, of course, that's going to have an impact across the sector." She added: "I think that the furlough scheme has been of great assistance across aviation but let's be honest, in terms of the sector building the sector up again in terms of people flying over the world in the manner they were in January, that is going to take some time."

She said the Executive would now work to build up Bombardier and its supply chain including investing in research and development "so they can be there at the top of the game to move forward and build up for the future".

Jackie Pollock, regional secretary of trade union Unite, said the job losses were a major setback.

"Aerospace jobs are high-value added, unionised jobs. They are not easily replaced and they have a vital role in our economy," he said. "Between direct and indirect employment, the sector accounts for 10,000 jobs in Northern Ireland and 1.2 million in the UK, which is a global leader in the industry.

"In terms of exports, aerospace is even more significant for Northern Ireland - its output is valued at £1.9bn a year.

"The industry is a pillar of our economy, but its future hangs in the balance as order books have collapsed on the back of the Covid-19 shutdown."

Bombardier has said the 400 core jobs at its Belfast site were at risk as the industry responds to "interruptions and challenges" from Covid-19.

Last week the Canadian-owned firm announced 2,500 job losses in other parts of its global operations.

A spokeswoman for Bombardier Belfast said yesterday: "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."

The firm said it is now starting a 90-day consultation period which will involve exploring "opportunities to mitigate the number of redundancies".

She added: "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."

The spokeswoman confirmed that the vast majority of a "complementary labour force" of 200 would also go.

"We will also be gradually releasing members of our complementary labour force over the coming months."

Belfast Telegraph