July and August 'could be brutal months for jobs losses'
THERE was devastating news for the workers in Thompson Aero Seating last Thursday as the aerospace company announced the beginning of a consultation which could see 500 jobs lost in Craigavon and Banbridge.
Such large numbers of potential redundancies will have started a hugely worrying period for all 1,200 workers, their families and those who rely on the wages generated to run their businesses.
This is the inevitable outcome of the damage caused by the Covid crisis to the global aerospace industry.
And sadly this will not be the last of the bad news on jobs as our economy remains largely locked down with tentative steps taken to reopen. Indeed just last week we reported that half of manufacturing firms believe they may have to lose one third of their workforce and one in eight firms may not survive this year.
A combination of the June 10 closure of the furlough scheme and our local employment laws means that it is likely many similar announcements will be made in the coming weeks.
For now, the Job Retention Scheme will expire tomorrow. There cannot be any new entrants beyond that point and to replace it will come a new ‘Flexi-Furlough’, but that is only for those who are on furlough. At that point instead of a job’s retention tool, it will essentially be a Job Returning Scheme. That in itself is useful in trying to get businesses back trading and rebuilding the economy but limited in protecting many other jobs.
We have consistently made it clear that furlough is protection from redundancy for now, not for ever. That will become clear much sooner here than elsewhere.
Given that the legal consultation period for redundancies of more that 100 people here is 90 days (it’s 45 days in GB) and that employer contributions towards the furlough bill will begin to rise over the summer, the fear is that July and August have the potential to be brutal months for jobs news.
Firms have worked hard to recruit great teams, the critical skills they need to make great products, but they simply cannot take the risk of significant penalty or jeopardising the future of their entire workforce by retaining staff where there is insufficient market demand for what they make.
This makes it even more important that governments across these islands find ways to safely allow more economic activity to return as soon as possible.
Each day and week that parts of the business community remain closed down increases the likelihood that more jobs are lost. Markets returning, not just for our manufacturers, is the quickest and safest way to protect jobs.
The manufacturing sector is resilient and many will find a way out of the current crisis, but they need the support of the Executive through financial intervention for our SME manufacturers, smart and brave policy making and quick decisions to give them a fighting chance.
Stephen Kelly (email@example.com) is chief executive of Manufacturing NI (www.manufacturingni.org)