Up to 830 job losses in North and South
AS MANY as 830 jobs will be lost at two companies North and South of the border as challenging trading conditions continue to drive unemployment higher.
Up to 760 jobs are to be lost at the Northern Irish engineering company FG Wilson, while pensions and investments company Zurich Life has told staff it plans to lay off as many as 70 people and close offices in Cork and Galway.
Caterpillar’s decision to axe 760 jobs in Northern Ireland at its wholly-owned subsidiary FG Wilson has been greeted with shock, anger and dismay by political leaders, trade unions and its workforce in the North.
Northern Ireland Minister for Enterprise Arlene Foster said the substantial job losses – which will affect all of FG Wilson’s four sites in the North – is a “major blow to the Northern Ireland economy”.
“This is devastating news for the hundreds of families who will be affected particularly when so many people are already struggling in this difficult economic climate,” said Ms Foster.
Caterpillar, which employs in the region of 3,000 people locally, had announced in June that it was reviewing its small generator-set business “to create a more competitive cost structure”.
The consequence of Caterpillar’s evaluation will be the 760 lay-offs.
The American group has warned that the redundancy programme will affect salaried, production employees and agency workers.
FG Wilson, founded by the late Fred Wilson in 1966, is seen as one of the North’s manufacturing elite. It has been part of the Caterpillar group since 1999.
FG Wilson is one of Northern Ireland’s leading exporters with a customer base in more than 180 countries.
Its American parent group said that the massive redundancy programme in the North was part of a number of measures that would result in a “more efficient and competitive business model” for FG Wilson.
About 170 agency workers have already lost their jobs. The remaining redundancies are expected to be implemented before the end of this year across its four sites in Larne, Belfast, Springvale and Monkstown.
Robert Kennedy, FG Wilson’s Northern Ireland operations director said the restructuring programme was a reflection of the business climate.
He also added that the group was responding to “dampened demand”.
“We understand these decisions will be difficult for the lives of many of our workers and their families and we genuinely regret that,” said Mr Kennedy.
Workers who lost their job would be offered an enhanced redundancy package and that FG Wilson would also provide new skills training and host job fairs to try to find them alternative employment, he added.
However, the Unite trade union said Caterpillar had been “contemptuous” of its Northern Ireland workforce.
Unite’s regional secretary, Jimmy Kelly, said its members were “sickened” at the way they were being treated.
Paul Maskey, the Sinn Féin MP for West Belfast, where FG Wilson’s Springvale site is located, said there were also questions to be asked about how Caterpillar had been supported with government funding in Northern Ireland.
But Ian Coulter, the chairman of the Confederation of British Industry, one of the largest local business bodies, said the job losses, while devastating for those affected, were a stark reminder that Northern Ireland had to compete on a global stage.
Meanwhile, Zurich Life blamed the “sustained decline” in the Irish life and pensions industry and “challenging markets” for its decision to make up to 70 staff redundant.
Most of the jobs will be cut in Dublin with about 15 in the firm’s two regional offices. Zurich said that it was aiming for as many voluntary redundancies as possible.