Gloomy outlook as Andor job losses feared
Parent company Oxford Instruments confirms exercise to make cost savings of £6m
A worker at the Andor Technology factory in Belfast. The firm is actively seeking 18 voluntary redundancies at its Belfast operations. Photograph: Charles McQuillan/Pacemaker
The world’s “largest science lesson” will take place today at the Odyssey Arena in Belfast as part of an initiative to inspire children to become the next generation of scientists and technology pioneers.
Local primary and secondary schoolchildren will use science to try to solve a crime as part of the Guinness World Records attempt. It is just one of more than 100 events taking place across Northern Ireland as part of the first NI Science Festival, which runs until March 1st.
According to Dr Liz Conlon, chairwoman of the NI Science Festival and an adviser to the Institute of Physics in Ireland, getting young people interested in science is “essential for building a solid economy in Northern Ireland”.
Perhaps the 18 people facing redundancy at one of the North’s leading hi-tech companies might not agree. Trade union Unite says Andor Technology is actively seeking 18 voluntary redundancies at its Belfast operations and there could also be potential job losses at its US offices.
Andor, which was acquired by London-listed Oxford Instruments in December 2013 for £176 million, has declined to comment on exactly how many jobs might be at risk at its west Belfast facility. However it has confirmed that it is currently involved in a “cost-savings” exercise which could result in possible redundancies.
Andor, which develops and manufactures hi-tech scientific cameras, says the cost-saving exercise could have been initiated regardless of its acquisition by Oxford Instruments. Unite, however, is somewhat sceptical about this – and with good reason.
Last month, Oxford Instruments was forced to issue a profit warning because of a dramatic decline in its sales to Russia as a result of trade sanctions. It expects no sales in Russia for the remainder of this year or next year. Oxford also warned that disappointing sales in Japan would also affect its pre-tax profits this year. Because of these factors, it was going to take “action to reduce costs and improve efficiency”.
The company stated: “Subject to consultation, this may result in the closure of some sites and a reduction in headcount. This project aims to produce a cost saving of £6 million in the next financial year.”
Back at Andor, a company which, according to trade unions, has a healthy order book and is constantly asking staff to work overtime, it should have been business as usual.
Instead, according to Unite regional officer Jackie Pollock, for the first time in the company’s history, employees are facing the prospect of job losses.
Andor, which was established as a spin-out company from Queen’s University in 1989, employs more than 400 people in 16 locations across the globe. Before it was acquired by Oxford Instruments in December 2013, it had increased its headcount during the year by 50 people, to 409.
In its final set of accounts prior to its takeover, it highlighted the importance of “investing in the training and development of its staff”.
Pollock believes the current “cost-savings exercise” could not be further away from the company’s previous ethos and that the decision to seek redundancies in Belfast is a “betrayal” of employees loyal to the business.
“This decision reflects the impact of the global downturn on Oxford Instruments, which is highly leveraged as a result of its acquisition activities. It does not reflect the situation in Andor itself, which remains highly profitable with a strong demand for its cutting-edge products.
“This is a profitable company and management are looking for 18 redundancies,” Pollock adds. “We believe this decision is indefensible.”
Andor has rejected accusations that the cost-savings exercise is a direct result of its takeover by Oxford Instruments. A spokesperson said: “Successful businesses put measures in place to retain their competitive edge,” and, as it is now part of Oxford Instruments, Andor would play its role in the group-wide initiative to “reduce costs and improve efficiency”.
When the board of Andor recommended Oxford’s takeover bid to its shareholders back in 2013, then chairman Colin Walsh said the Belfast company was “one of kind”. Andor was an”outstanding example of how the very best in UK science can be successfully commercialised across global markets”, Walsh said. Maybe the Andor/Oxford science project needs to go back to the drawing board – 18 potential job losses is hardly progress.