Northern Ireland

Caterpillar cuts up to 250 jobs in Northern Ireland

Caterpillar's Monkstown plant in Newtownabbey, file pic Image copyright Press Eye
Image caption The move will lead to the closure of Caterpillar's Monkstown plant in Newtownabbey

More than 200 jobs are to be cut by US firm Caterpillar in Northern Ireland.

The move will lead to the closure of its Monkstown plant in Newtownabbey.

The world's largest manufacturer of heavy construction equipment, Caterpillar employs 1,800 people in Northern Ireland with factories in Larne, Newtownabbey and west Belfast.

The firm has been hit by a global downturn in mining and oil exploration which has reduced demand for its products.

In Northern Ireland, much of its work involves the manufacture of diesel generators.

'Absolutely devastated'

Caterpillar workers have expressed their shock at the announcement.

"I have been there nearly 20 years, now there is no guarantee whether we are going to have a job or not," one worker told the BBC.

"They are saying there is redeployment, but I don't know, I'm absolutely devastated.

"People have families and they don't know if they are going to have a job or not."

John Campbell, BBC News NI Economics and Business Editor

Caterpillar counts the mining and oil industries among its main customers.

When commodity prices were booming these industries couldn't get enough of Caterpillar's products.

But the global fall in commodity prices mean they are spending much less and so Caterpillar has faced quarter after quarter of declining sales.

Last month, the firm said it expected no significant growth in demand for its energy and transportation products for the rest of 2016.

It has responded by cutting costs - almost 14,000 jobs have been axed across its global business since mid-2015.

The workforce will be hoping this latest round of cuts is the last.

'Committed to Northern Ireland'

Between 200-250 jobs will be cut over the next two years, Caterpillar said in a statement, although the firm emphasised it remained "committed to Northern Ireland".

The firm is restructuring its operations in Northern Ireland, including the closure of the Monkstown facility in Newtownabbey and "consolidation of logistics" at its sites in Larne, County Antrim and Springvale in west Belfast.

It was also end the production of 25-tonne and larger material handlers in Northern Ireland, including the planned launch of large material handler models for Europe.

"This restructuring is part of the company's ongoing plans to reduce cost in response to current economic and business conditions," said the statement.

"Despite these contemplated actions, we remain committed to Northern Ireland.

Image caption The closure of its Monkstown plant may also impact Caterpillar's sites at Larne and west Belfast

"In fact, these potential changes would make us more efficient and competitive over the longer term."

Northern Ireland Secretary of State James Brokenshire said the government wanted to help those who had lost their jobs.

A UK government spokesperson said that Mr Brokenshire had "discussions with the executive on how we can work together to help prevent future losses and bring new employment opportunities".

The trade union, Unite, said the announcement should be a turning point for the Northern Ireland Executive's industrial policy and said "real action" was required to help a "beleaguered sector".

"Thousands of experienced, highly-skilled - and now redundant - manufacturing workers need appropriate employment opportunities," said Unite's Davy Thompson.

"Giving up on manufacturing is not an option for these workers or the communities which face post-industrial futures."

Image copyright Press Eye
Image caption Caterpillar is the world's largest manufacturer of heavy equipment

The closure in Monkstown may also impact on its factories in Larne and Springvale, said Caterpillar.

"If finalised, production for electric power generator sets in Monkstown would be consolidated into Larne and production of truck axles will move into Springvale," said the statement.

It added that "the transition is expected to begin this year and be completed in the next 12 to 24 months".

'Minimise the impact'

Economy Minister Simon Hamilton said the announced redundancies were "deeply disappointing".

Mr Hamilton said his department and Invest Northern Ireland "will continue to work to minimise the impact on all those affected".

It was a "devastating blow for the local area", said Sinn Féin assembly member Oliver McMullan, while Democratic Unionist Party MP for East Antrim Sammy Wilson also expressed disappointment.

Alliance Party Economy spokesman Stephen Farry said there needed to be a "clear vision" from the Northern Ireland Executive, "not only for fully supporting the workers, but also what will be done to prevent further similar losses down the line".

Image caption Economy Minister Simon Hamilton said he recognised the families of those workers affected were facing an 'uncertain future'

In September 2015, Caterpillar said it could cut its workforce by more than 10,000 by 2018 and that it would axe up to 5,000 jobs by the end of 2016.

It said it was looking to reduce annual costs by $1.5bn by the end of 2016.

This followed a collapse of commodity prices which affected its key customers in the mining and energy sectors and a reduction in sales revenues.

The US firm purchased one of Northern Ireland's best known manufacturing companies FG Wilson in 1999 and renamed it Caterpillar (Northern Ireland) at the start of 2013.

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