Voting in a crucial trade union-organised ballot that could seal the future of Bombardier’s Belfast facility is scheduled to be completed on Wednesday.
The Canadian group has told unions it needs to make “cost reductions” in the North and these are likely to result in significant changes for its 5,500-strong workforce.
It is understood Bombardier has made it clear the “cost reductions” are necessary to ensure the “competitiveness of the company going forward”.The aerospace giant is keen to get workers to sign up to a package which would see a new three-year wage agreement being introduced in Belfast, reduced shift premiums, an hour’s extension to the current 36-hour working week and a reduction in overtime.
Union leaders have not commented publicly on their discussions with Bombardier management in Northern Ireland but it is no secret that there is a high level of anxiety about the company’s immediate future in the North given its current financial position.
In October the Canadian group was forced to ask the Quebec government for financial help totalling $1 billion after running into repeated problems with its troubled new CSeries aircraft programme.The aircraft programme has been dogged by delays, budget over-runs and a general lack of enthusiastic buyers, Bombardier had hoped to sell in the region of 300 aircraft before it officially goes into service in 2016 – but it has not yet hit its targets.
Its Belfast facility plays a key role in the CSeries aircraft programme.
Bombardier invested £250 million in the North to facilitate the research, design, manufacture and assembly of the CSeries aircraft wings at its historic site in east Belfast.
Its Northern Ireland operations are not solely dependent on the success of the CSeries aircraft, its Belfast facility also plays a key role in the design and manufacture of a range of component parts for a number of different Bombardier aircraft but the CSeries is seen as a strategically important factor in its future.
Bombardier and in turn Belfast has been impacted by a lack of demand for business jets globally which has resulted in hundreds of job cuts in Northern Ireland over the last 24 months.
The Canadian group has steadfastly maintained that it remains committed to its local operations – highlighting its £2.5 billion investment track record over the last 25 years as evidence of its future intentions for the North.
During a recent trade mission to Canada, the North’s Enterprise Minister Jonathan Bell said Bombardier’s senior management team reassured him they were confident that the group would overcome any challenges relating to the CSeries.