The Ulster Unionist representative has met with senior management and staff at the Caterpillar-owned firm which recently announced 760 redundancies and the transfer of small-generator production from East Antrim and Belfast to China.
Mr Beggs, who has also raised in the Assembly the plight of workers faced with redundancy, said he is trying to achieve clarity for all concerned as to the way ahead. He added: “Since the announcement of the latest round of redundancies I have spoken to many people connected to employees and people currently employed by FG Wilson. It is clear that there is confusion about exactly how many people are losing their jobs, and worries about the longer term future of the company in Larne, Monkstown, Springvale and Belfast.
“I raised these concerns at a meeting with Paul Kirkpatrick, Larne plant manager, and with personnel manager Gerry Ward. In terms of the announced job losses, the FG Wilson managers told me that reduction of the 760 full time employees is separate to 170 agency workers who had already been made redundant. It is not 760 plus another 260 previously indicated in July, which has been reported in some media.
“Nevertheless, this still represents a severe round of redundancies and the company was not able to provide me with guarantees about future employment levels. There is clearly uncertainty about potential further jobs losses which could be affected by the current market conditions and the transitional arrangements.”
Mr Beggs revealed: “On a more positive note, I have been told there were no plans to move the Investor larger plant manufacture elsewhere. It was confirmed to me that unlike the retail operation the investor large generator production remains profitable in Larne.
“I was also advised that the company had invested over £20 million pounds in recent years in terms of research and development in research facility and specialised plant in this area.”
The Assembly member said: “Obviously, there is an air of despondency around FG Wilsons at the minute. However I do not want to add to that pessimism. The large-gen set production remains profitable and I have been told that there are no plans to move the large Gen set production. At this time we must accept what the company has said, and hope that global trading conditions improve.”
Mr Beggs raised the plight of redundant FG Wilson employees at Stormont Question Time. He asked Minister for Employment and Learning Stephen Farry how he intends to help them to gain alternative employment.
Mr Farry outlined the role of his department’s Redundancy Advice Service, adding: “FG Wilson, the Confederation of British Industry and officials from my department confirmed that they had received expressions of interest from companies interested in exploring the possibility of redeploying affected staff. My department is also exploring options for re-skilling and up-skilling affected staff through the Northern Regional College. The college informed me that, as well as offering up-skilling and training, it offered to undertake a skills audit of staff.”
Asked by Mr Beggs to elaborate on the type of re-skills training programme that could be available, the Minister replied: “A number of strands are under way and under discussion between different government agencies and FG Wilson, in particular about retraining.
“It is important to stress that we have a wide range of skill sets available through the workers of FG Wilson. Indeed, many of them will already be highly skilled. We first need to understand exactly who will be made redundant. As you will appreciate, we are going through a redundancy consultation period, which is why I am stressing the point of the skills audit. However, our further education sector — in particular, the Northern Regional College, which has a very good track record in engineering — is well placed to provide refresher and conversion courses, taking general skills that people have and maybe retraining them in the specific skills that new companies that wish to take advantage of staff redeploying will need. That is being taken forward and those discussions are well under way.”
Mr Farry added: “We are also looking at how we can best facilitate other employers accessing those workers. I am pleased to see expressions of interest from a number of sources, and discussions are under way with a view to having job fairs on-site within the premises of FG Wilson.”
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