Unions talk tough amid fears of Spirit carve-up

‘Livelihoods of Belfast workers must not be put at risk’ says Union as Boeing eye acquisition deal

Spirit Aerosystems employ around 3,000 people across its Northern Ireland operation, which makes aircraft components including wings and fuselage.
Spirit Aerosystems employ around 3,600 people across its Northern Ireland operation, which makes aircraft components including wings and fuselages

Unions are playing tough amid renewed speculation that there could be a workload carve-up of the Spirit Aerosystems business in Belfast in a battle of global aviation’s two big players, Boeing and Airbus.

Kansas-based Spirit, which bought the former Shorts Brothers operation from Bombardier in 2019, has been in discussions for some time with Boeing about a potential acquisition.

But according to a report by Forbes, Boeing has made progress with its other chief customer, Airbus, to separate the divisions that handle its rivals’ work.

The majority of Spirit’s work in Belfast - where it employs 3,600 staff - is in production for Airbus, notably in making the wings and mid fuselage for its A220 aircraft.

But around 40% of the jobs in Belfast are tied to production for other aerospace companies, including Bombardier and Rolls Royce.

And the fear is that in the increasingly likely event of a buy-out of Spirit, Boeing could then divest some of the business in Belfast and also at the former BAE Systems plant in Prestwick in Scotland, which builds Airbus airframes and wings.

That has prompted the Unite union to raise concerns over the deal and to seek assurances that jobs in both Belfast and Prestwick will be safe.

Sharon Graham said that talks have been a waste of time (Jacob King/PA)
Sharon Graham, general secretary of the Unite union

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “The livelihoods of workers must not be put at risk as corporate giants carve up the future of this company.

“It is vital that all workers are quickly given cast iron guarantees over their futures.

“Unite will leave no stone unturned in ensuring that the future of this highly skilled and dedicated workforce at Spirit is fully protected.”

As well as 3,600 workers being directly employed at Queen’s Island, another 7,000 jobs across the north rely on the activities on Spirit Aerosystems Belfast in what is an increasingly lucrative aerospace supply chain.

The union added: “Any deal in which production lines or sites in the Airbus supply chain transfer to Airbus but non-Airbus production transfers to Boeing or a third-party poses a clear concern for jobs.

“We are concerned that a break-up of these divisions would undermine wider economies of scale and raise a longer-term threat to all operations.”

 George Brash, Unite.
Unite's regional co-ordinator George Brash

Unite’s regional co-ordinating officer George Brash added: “All Spirit’s operations in Northern Ireland must transfer together, so that our members’ jobs are secure and the aerospace manufacturing base is safeguarded.”

While a spokesperson for Spirit Aero has previously confirmed that discussions with Airbus are continuing, Airbus itself has declined to comment on “any speculation around potential mergers or acquisitions”.