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Job Losses in Manufacturing Industry

Part of Private Notice Question – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 4:00 pm on 20th April 2009.

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Photo of Arlene Foster Arlene Foster DUP 4:00 pm, 20th April 2009

I have had useful meetings with trade union representatives since the closure of the factory was announced.

In respect of Nortel Networks, Invest NI continues to meet and communicate regularly with both the company’s administrators and its management. Speculation continues that Nortel may be able to attract interest in the sale of its core wireless-equipment business to other major blue-chip companies. We are also, therefore, working to ensure that we can promote fully the Monkstown campus’s capabilities to take advantage of any new foreign direct investment (FDI) opportunities that may arise.

Unfortunately, in the majority of those cases, redundancies have been a necessary evil and have been made in order to protect the long-term interests and employment potential of major local operations, with Visteon, obviously, being the one to which that does not apply.

The employment rights of workers who have been made redundant by their employers are set out in the Employment Rights (Northern Ireland) Order 1996, which is, as Members will be aware, the responsibility of the Department for Employment and Learning (DEL).

If those workers feel that their rights have been breached in the execution of those redundancies, they can avail themselves of the services of their trade union, employee legal representatives or the Labour Relations Agency and seek the appropriate advice and guidance that could, ultimately, lead to redress through an industrial tribunal. The interpretation and application of employment law is, ultimately, the role of the chairmen of the industrial tribunals and fair-employment tribunals, who are members of the independent judiciary appointed by the Lord Chief Justice.

It is important that we continue to protect our manufacturing business base and ensure that when market conditions improve, Northern Ireland businesses are well placed to capitalise rapidly. Collaboration is a necessity, and I am working closely with my colleague the Minister for Employment and Learning to identify, as a matter of urgency, any new policies and schemes that could be introduced within the powers and resources that are available to the Executive. That work focuses on the provision of practical support and advice as well as implementing training and reskilling programmes and assistance.

As Members may be aware, I recently announced the establishment of a manufacturing advisory group as a subgroup of the Economic Development Forum (EDF). Trade unions suggested that idea to me recently, and it has received broad support from other members of the EDF. I can announce today that Mark Nodder, managing director of Wrightbus, has agreed to chair that subgroup, and work is currently under way to develop the terms of reference and agree membership. Those arrangements should be in place in the very near future, and I expect the first meeting to be held shortly.

On an international scale, the Government continue to take action to bring stability to the financial markets on which all businesses depend. We are in constant dialogue with business about how to alleviate the current difficulties. However, people must realise that there is no easy fix and that the measures will take time to have an effect.