Posted on Thursday 13 September 2012 by Ulster Business

PEYE FG Wilsons 002

Just over a year ago FG Wilson opened an Engineering Centre of Excellence in Larne. Now it is announcing job cuts.

The Northern Ireland economy was dealt a hammer blow today as diesel generator manufacturer FG Wilson revealed it is to cut 760 jobs, with more redundancies to follow in the next few years.

US heavy machinery giant Caterpillar Inc, the parent company of FG Wilson, said the job losses were the result of measures it is taking to make it the company more competitive in the long term.

Caterpillar said the 760 people being “released” would be a combination of salaried and production employees as well as agency workers. So far around 170 agency workers have left.

The redundancies – all of which will be complete by the end of 2012 – will be spread across FG Wilson’s facilities in Larne, Belfast, Springvale and Monkstown. The manufacturer currently employs almost 3,000 people.

“We value our employees’ contributions, and these actions are not a reflection of them, but rather of the business climate,” said Robert Kennedy, the company’s Northern Ireland Operations Director.

“We understand these decisions will be difficult for the lives of many of our workers and their families, and we genuinely regret that. We are striving to reduce some of the impact by offering an enhanced Voluntary Redundancy package,” he added.

Caterpillar blamed problems in the Eurozone and continuing financial uncertainty in the global economy for dampening demand from its small generator set customers.

The company has already moved the production of its 400 series generator sets to Tianjin in China to build the product closer to its customers, resulting in 160 agency workers being let go in Northern Ireland.

And the Illinois-headquartered company indicated that further redundancies will also be on the cards, commenting that it had decided to shift production of around 70 per cent of its small generator sets to China by 2014.

“Employee redundancies resulting from this action will be communicated to employees as they become known,” the company said.

FG Wilson set up in 1966 by Moira-born Fred Wilson. It was sold to Caterpillar in 1999 and has been part of its Electric Power Division since 2005.

In July last year the company unveiled a new £16m Engineering Centre of Excellence at its Larne plant, a project for which it received Invest NI support and was opened by Prince Andrew. At the time Dr Mark Sweeney, director of Caterpillar’s Electric Power Division, said the company was looking forward to “further development at Larne in the next few years”.

“We realise the announcements we’re making affect a company that has a rich history in Northern Ireland,” Robert Kennedy said.

“However, given our current structure and economic environment, portions of our portfolio are not competitive, and we need to react accordingly for long-term growth and to compete for industry leadership. Caterpillar is committed to building the remaining business in Northern Ireland and to working closely with local government, including Invest Northern Ireland, as we’re focused on keeping it competitive and sustainable for the future.”

Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster described the job losses as “devastating news for the hundreds of families who will be affected” given the difficult economic climate.

“I want to assure staff that, together with Invest NI and colleagues in the entire Northern Ireland Executive, we will do all that is possible to limit the impact of the redundancies,” she said.

“I welcome the fact that the company will be offering affected employees an enhanced redundancy package and will assist with training opportunities and engage with recruitment companies to provide as much help and support as it can. Clearly this is a difficult economic situation and we will continue to look at every possible option to assist the Northern Ireland economy as a whole.”

Ian Coulter, Chairman of business lobby group CBI Northern Ireland said the job losses were a “stark reminder” that Northern Ireland must be able to compete on a global stage.

" As to what can be done, the urgency for securing a lower corporation tax for Northern Ireland has never been so great in order to maintain our competitive edge and our Executive must win this argument. Our Executive must take an action-this-day approach to helping those who have lost their jobs and other businesses who are under pressure. We will be engaging with them to suggest practical steps that can provide relief including tackling access to finance,” he said.



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