FIRST to react to the latest employment shock from FG Wilson was Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson, who immediately called for Prime Minister David Cameron to visit the constituency to address the blow to the UK economy.
Just over an hour after the official announcement, Mr Dickson was at the gates of the generator factory at Old Glenarm Road, talking to workers. He said: “This is shocking news that will devastate many workers and their families. Many more will also be affected by the fall out, as job losses to this extent will have a knock-on effect on secondary companies and groups in the area.
“Following the job cuts announced in July I held a meeting with the management of FG Wilson and was not satisfied with answers given regarding the company’s future. I left that meeting with an uneasy feeling, which unfortunately has turned into a reality today.
“The landscape of Larne and Monkstown will be drastically altered forever, making this a national economic disaster. I am calling for the Prime Minister to meet with the Enterprise, Trade and Investment Minister (Arlene Foster, DUP) immediately to ensure the correct support system is in place for all affected. He really should be in Northern Ireland today as local people try to come to terms with this news.”
Mr Dickson added: “These job loses clearly show how unstable the UK’s economy remains. The Prime Minister and the Executive must act fast to stop other firms suffering the same fate.”
Sinn Féin Assemblyman Oliver McMullan urged for an emergency debate at Stormont and appealed to Mrs Foster and the Employment and Learning Minister Stephen Farry (Alliance) to “assist in whatever way”.
“The jobs losses at FG Wilson are a huge blow to the local and are significantly higher than predicted,” he said. “We need to examine why this is the case given that FG Wilson doubled its pre-tax profits to £7.8m in 2011 and how much Invest NI have contributed to this company over the past number of years.
“This move will leave many workers and their families facing hardship in what are already difficult economic times and our primary focus needs to be with them. What we need to see is DEL and DETI jointly setting up a unit to advise those facing redundancy of employment opportunities, benefit entitlements, mortgage advice and skills retraining.”
Ulster Unionist Deputy Mayor of Larne, Cllr Mark McKinty, spoke with a group of FG Wilson employees at lunch time on Thursday. Afterwards, he said: “I know many of the families personally who will be affected by this announcement, some of whom have been affected by earlier job cuts this year also. The sad reality is that not just FG Wilson employees will be affected.
“There are many hundreds of down-stream jobs in subsidiary industries exposed to the knock-on effects, and we as a community will feel this directly in non-related industries and professions such as cleaners, taxi-drivers, logistical services and transport companies”.
Cllr McKinty acknowledged global forces impacting on FG Wilson, but he also claimed that “the failure of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister to deliver on the 12.5 per cent corporation tax promise for Northern Ireland businesses” was a contributing factor.
The deputy mayor added: “It is vital now that our focus turns to the FG Wilson employees and how best to secure employment for those who seek it. All of the State agencies who have a role to play here must be available to the employees, making every effort to assist them in identifying alternative employment down the line.
“But efforts must not stop there. It is critical, if we are to address the spiralling unemployment news from Northern Ireland, that the Executive and Assembly bring forward urgent proposals to encourage the establishment of an R&D strategy for big businesses to come here, to invest in Northern Ireland.”
MLA Roy Beggs Jnr said he was as shocked as anyone by the scale of the redundancies, despite meeting with Caterpillar’s NI operations manager Robert Kennedy and other senior management at the Larne factory in the summer.
“I was made aware of the pressures they were experiencing regarding their smaller generator sets, which had resulted in the announcement of the earlier job losses and their decision to establish a production facility in Asia,” said the Ulster Unionist Assembly member.
“But like everyone else, I have been shocked by this second announcement and the scale of redundancies proposed. It seems amazing that relatively recently the firm were announcing significant profits, investing in new production lines, and taking on extra staff.”
Mr Beggs added: “The Old Glenarm Road factory in Larne has been a mainstay of the local economy down the years, with many families depending on the jobs provided by BTH, GEC and latterly FG Wilsons on the site. It was once the biggest turbine works in Europe when the British Thomson Houston Company (BTH) built the factory back in 1957.
“Of course in the past there were fluctuations in employment levels at the Larne site. This time, however, I am aware of concerns from employees that even more job losses could be in the pipeline. Given the lack of clarity regarding the current redundancies, I would call on the company to make a clearer statement about the future employment prospects for their remaining employees.”
Mr Beggs also urged: “The Stormont Executive needs to step up and provide a coherent economic strategy to actually deliver a re-balanced economy, rather than just talk about it. The never-ending talks about the possibility of reducing Corporation Tax in Northern Ireland needs to come to a conclusion one way or another. The DUP Ministers have been completely incoherent on this issue, with Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster in favour of a reduction in the rate, whilst her party and ministerial colleague Sammy Wilson has never appeared fully committed to the idea. They need to get their act together and make a decision.”
NIIRTA - the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association - fears the job losses and resulting reduction in local spending will be a “hammer blow” to the local retail sector.
Chief executive Glyn Roberts said: “I am particularly concerned at the likely local impact on Larne and the immediate East Antrim area, whose local town centres are already facing particular problems in losing local shops. The Executive now need to redouble their efforts to move the current corporation tax talks forward to a successful conclusion and bring forward their own plans for establishing local enterprise zones.”