Unite union heads for US to make Bombardier workers’ case
‘Without the C-Series, there is no Belfast plant,’ warns union co-ordinator
Workers inspect a C-Series aeroplane wing in the Bombardier factory in Belfast. Photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters
Trade union leaders hope to travel to the United States later this month to meet senior officials from the US department of commerce to highlight how proposed new trade tariffs on Bombardier C-Series planes would jeopardise thousands of jobs in Northern Ireland.
The commerce department wants to slap import duties of 300 per cent on every Bombardier C-Series aircraft sold in the US following an anti-dumping investigation sparked by allegations levelled by rival Boeing.
Bombardier’s Belfast plant designed and manufactures the advanced composite wings for the C-Series planes. The dedicated wings’ production line currently employs 1,000 people – 25 per cent of the work force – but in four years’ time it is hoped this will ramp up to 60 per cent of the workforce if C-Series sales take off.
But Davy Thompson, Unite’s regional co-ordinator for Northern Ireland, said the proposed tariffs and Boeing’s ongoing trade war with Bombardier threatens not only the C-Series production line in Belfast but the future of Bombardier’s entire Northern Ireland operations.
“Without the C-Series, there is no Belfast plant,” he said. “We are caught in the middle of a Canadian/US dispute. We need the US administration to rescind the 300 per cent tariffs threatened on the C-Series otherwise Bombardier’s Belfast workforce is going to end up as the collateral damage,” Mr Thompson said.
Since the department of commerce ruling, Bombardier has entered into a partnership with Airbus to produce the C-Series. The agreement includes plans to assemble C-Series aircraft for US customers on US soil, which could make the aircraft exempt from import tariffs. However, Boeing is still not happy.
Unite now plans to take its campaign to safeguard the jobs in the North to Washington where it hopes to secure “influential supporters” to back Bombardier’s Belfast operations.
In London yesterday, US commerce secretary Wilbur Ross said his government appreciated the “political sensitivity” surrounding the proposed tariffs but he warned that “even our best friends must abide by the rules”.
“To us, the real question is: is there subsidy? Is there the potential dumping of those aircraft into the US market? Preliminary, our determination is there has been,” Mr Ross said.
However he also suggested that the final ruling on the proposed tariffs could be different. “While it’s normally true that the final determination – which is some weeks away – more or less follows the preliminary, it doesn’t always,” Mr Ross added.
Mr Thompson, believes the commerce secretary’s words offer “no assurance whatsoever” to Bombardier’s local workforce or the company’s Northern Ireland supply chain.