Belfast Telegraph

Caterpillar job cuts a bitter blow for staff

Editor's Viewpoint

The loss of 250 jobs as the giant Caterpillar company begins its global restructuring is a hammer blow to the staff involved.

The news came on the day when many of those workers will have waved their children off to begin a new school year, but now the coming months will be filled with uncertainty for those families as the hunt for alternative employment begins.

Amidst all the comments about a crisis in the manufacturing sector and the need for a bespoke policy for that part of the economy, we must not forget the human cost of the decision taken.

Bills will still have to be paid and food will still have to be put on the table.

And the employees losing their jobs, like those shed in the closures of JTI Gallaher and Michelin, will have difficulty finding similarly well-paid occupations in the near future.

Unlike other companies that have shut down or radically reduced their Northern Ireland presence to move to lower-cost locations, Caterpillar's decision follows falling sales for their products globally. It is difficult to see how a manufacturing policy, however tailored, could alter the company's need to reduce its workforce.

And while the job losses at JTI, Michelin and - soon to come - at Bombardier are a bitter blow to the local economy, especially given that they were high-value manufacturing jobs, they must be viewed in perspective.

It has to be accepted that Northern Ireland's economy continues to lag behind the UK in general - its recovery from recession was sluggish. Yet the latest employment statistics show that 21,000 more people are in work here than a year ago, and there has been four successive months of falls in the number of people claiming benefits.

Those figures might seem like straws in the wind, but they do offer some encouragement, and the Stormont administration has been assisting the manufacturing sector here to the tune of £270m over the past five years.

And the politicians have also been sending out positive signals about stability in Northern Ireland - a key factor in inward investment decision-making - through the willingness of the DUP and Sinn to work closely together in government. The mood music between the two major parties is at its sweetest in many years.

Showing that Northern Ireland is open for business is the right message at this time.

Belfast Telegraph

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