Elected representatives say they are “saddened” and “disappointed” at engineering firm Caterpillar’s announcement that it is seeking 35 voluntary redundancies from among its Northern Ireland workforce.
The global firm began consultations with employees and agency workers yesterday (June 10), after notifying employees in its Electric Power Division in Northern Ireland and the US that it intended to “take measures to better align its organisational structure, resulting in a more efficient and competitive business model to better serve our customers.”
It is expected that 100 posts will go across the division, a combination of staff jobs and contracted workers.
Reacting to the news, elected representatives expressed their concern for the staff affected and called for action to attract more jobs to the area.
East Antrim Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson stated: “Whilst the proposed redundancies are to be voluntary, it is very disappointing news.
“I am concerned for those workers who will be losing their jobs, as it will be a stressful time for them and their families.
“Caterpillar remains a key employer in my constituency of East Antrim and remains a vital part of our manufacturing sector.
“I have contacted the Employment and Learning Minister and hope that Caterpillar will avail of the services in his Department that can assist the staff affected by this announcement.”
East Antrim DUP MLA Alastair Ross added: “Any announcement of job losses obviously comes as a blow, and this latest announcement, approximately six months since the last, is no different.
“Whilst there is a recognition that the workforce at the three NI Caterpillar plants will fluctuate depending on global market conditions, it is nevertheless important that Invest NI and DETI engage with the company to ascertain whether any assistance is required to secure existing production lines or attract new work in the future.
“Caterpillar remains a major NI employer and local representatives are always willing to assist the company in their efforts.”
Deputy Mayor of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council Timothy Gaston stated: “My immediate thoughts are with those who will be losing their jobs. For a company held in such high esteem it is a tough pill to swallow that they are making this decision.
“This council area has a lot to offer companies – we have a skilled workforce and a work ethic to match.
“Invest NI needs to up their game and attract foreign direct investment to fill the void left by companies such as Pattons, JTI / Gallaher and now Caterpillar.
“I will be using my term as Deputy Mayor to sell our area as one worthy of such investment.”
Larne Councillor Ruth Wilson commented: “I am saddened to learn that there will be redundancies in Caterpillar, which will be another blow to the manufacturing sector in Northern Ireland.
“My thoughts are with those whose who are in line for this redundancy and I hope that their expertise can be utilised by another company.”
In a statement, Caterpillar said that the impact on jobs will begin to take effect on June 30.
It continued: “Resources will be provided to assist impacted individuals during this transition. We know this is difficult for our employees and their families, but we must take steps to position the company for long-term success.”
A Caterpillar spokesman said it was not possible to say which of the firm’s facilities in Larne, Monkstown or Belfast would be most affected, adding: “No one can be sure where the voluntary redundancies will take effect until the applications are received.”
Meanwhile, the Unite union has called for a meeting with Enterprise Minister Jonathan Bell to discuss the latest blow to the local manufacturing sector.
Davy Thompson, regional coordinating officer for Unite, said: “This announcement is yet another blow to our manufacturing sector.
“Caterpillar shed 140 jobs at the end of last year.”
He added that the union understood that up to 70 jobs would be lost here.
“In the last year, Northern Ireland’s manufacturing base has suffered a series of losses with more than 1,500 job losses in prominent companies such as JTI-Gallahers in Ballymena, Bombardier-Shorts and Sirocco,” he commented.
“Unite has led calls for the NI Executive to take action and bring forward a manufacturing strategy to stem the losses and refocus on securing investment and job creation. Our call for a strategic approach has been supported by Manufacturing NI, who represent the leading employers in the sector.
“On May 14, I wrote to the incoming Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Investment, Jonathan Bell to ask for a meeting – it is nearly one month and we continue to wait for a date to raise our concerns directly with the minister.
“Unite represents many of the workers affected by this announcement and despite having no formal recognition for them due to their agency status, we will represent them individually to secure the best possible terms in this difficult time,” Mr Thompson added.