A large manufacturer of aerospace equipment has confirmed it plans to make up to 40 per cent of its workforce redundant – around 500 people.
Thompson Aero Seating has sites in Portadown and Banbridge. Its parent company is the China Aviation Industry Corporation.
In a statement released on Thursday afternoon a spokesperson for the company said it is experiencing “extreme challenges as a result of COVID-19”.
“The global airline and aviation industries are experiencing extreme challenges as a result of COVID-19, unprecedented developments, which have significantly impacted and reduced global demand for aircraft seating,” reads the statement.
“As a result of these major market challenges, Thompson Aero Seating is announcing a redundancy programme with a proposed reduction of up to 500 jobs, which represents a 40 per cent reduction and will bring the company’s headcount back to the numbers employed in 2018.
“Consultations will now commence with our employees and representatives, with reductions to take place over the coming months.
“It is with great regret that the company has taken this essential step, an unavoidable decision which, given the circumstances, is absolutely necessary to secure the sustainable future of our business.
“Our primary focus is on liaising closely with and supporting our employees at this time.”
Unite the Union’s regional officer for Thompson Aero Seating, Kieran Ellison, said: “Today’s announcement will come as a very severe blow to this workforce who only weeks ago [in March] suffered more than 430 job-losses, mostly among agency staff, at the onset of the COVID-19 crisis.
“Should job-losses on this scale proceed, it will represent a devastating blow not just to the workers affected and their families, at this time of crisis, but to the economy of Northern Ireland as a whole.
“Thompson Aero Seating currently employs a core workforce of approximately 1,200 and at least a further 100 casual workers at its sites at Portadown and Banbridge – it is a regionally significant employer.”
It is understood Unite will be seeking to ensure the company furloughs as many employees as possible. However, the union’s regional secretary, Jackie Pollick, appeared to suggest that may not be possible in this case.
“At present, workers must be furloughed before June 10th to receive support under the scheme; however, this is simply not possible where companies have contractual obligations for orders which are due immediately after this date.
“This is the case in Thompson Aero Seating and means five hundred workers now face the prospect of redundancy rather than support under the furlough scheme.”
Mr Pollick also called on the Northern Ireland Executive to do all it can to save these jobs.
“The government of Northern Ireland cannot afford to sit back and watch – it must now intervene to protect vital industrial capacity, jobs and skills,” he said.
“They must immediately secure movement from the Chancellor on the inflexibility that is currently built into the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.
“The Executive needs to bring forward a wider programme to safeguard vital industrial capacity. They need to be ready to take equity stakes in leading companies which now face unprecedented challenges and threats.
“Such investment should be focussed on repurposing production to better meet fundamentally changed economic conditions. The priority must be to save jobs and our skills-base so that our economy is well-positioned to make the most of any bounce-back in coming years.”