Concerns for Bombardier workers as plane maker sells jet programme

Bombardier in Canada is selling off its jets programme, raising concerns for workers in Belfast
Gary McDonald Business Editor

UNIONS have voiced fury at a decision by the parent company of east Belfast plane-maker Bombardier to hive off part of its business to a Japanese rival without telling them.

The Canadian-owned firm - which put its entire Northern Ireland operation up for sale last month - confirmed that it will offload its regional jets (CRJ) aircraft programme to Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) for $550 million (about £430 million).

But Unite says it is concerned about what the sale might mean for long-term future of Bombardier's thousands of staff in Belfast, and claims the sale might be a case of Mitsubishi "buying up a competitor to increase market share".

In a statement to the Tokyo stock market, Mitsubishi said it had entered into a definitive agreement with Bombardier to sell its regional jets division, including taking over its liabilities.

Bombardier then released a statement which said: “Following this definitive agreement, we are reviewing what impact this may have on our sites in Northern Ireland and Morocco as suppliers to the programme, and will evaluate opportunities in other programmes to mitigate any potential impact on our workforce.”

Belfast produces the central fuselages for the regional jets, with 350 people believed to be based either on the direct production line or working indirectly on the chain.

The Unite union said it was concerned about what the sale might mean for long-term future of the staff in Belfast (around 4,000 are on the payroll on all its workloads) and urged the company to guarantee the sale will be tied to a cast-iron commitment to the livelihoods of those employed in CRJ production.

Regional coordinating officer Susan Fitzgerald said: “This plunges the Bombardier workforce in Northern Ireland into uncertainty and concern.

“While both Bombardier and Mitsubishi have been talking up the possible benefits of such a deal, no assurances have been provided to workers in Northern Ireland.

“What's more, the fact that no one in the Northern Ireland operations was informed about this by Bombardier global corporate management will result in a wave of anger and concern among the workforce."

She claimed Mitsubishi's own regional jet does not have the necessary accreditation to sell into all markets globally, so the acquisition should be viewed as a mechanism for the Japanese company to get a foothold in these.

“Despite the huge skills base among the workforce here, there are grounds for concern about the long-term security of the 350 jobs sustained by this work in Northern Ireland. At worst it might simply be a case of Mitsubishi buying up a competitor to increase market share.

“Unite are now calling on Bombardier to guarantee this sale will be tied to a cast-iron commitment to the livelihoods of those employed in CRJ production,and the UK government must be proactive in defence of these vital jobs and skills.”

Alain Bellemare, Bombardier's president and chief executive, said: "We are confident that MHI's acquisition of the programme is the best solution for airline customers, employees and shareholders.

"We are committed to ensuring a smooth and orderly transition."

The deal is expected to close next year.

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