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Last Updated: Friday, 20 February, 2004, 11:07 GMT
Jobs blow as firm closes
The workforce was sent home after the announcement
A Japanese owned car components factory in County Down is to close with the loss of 550 jobs.

The announcement is the second major blow to Northern Ireland's economy in 24 hours coming after the loss of 270 textile jobs in County Tyrone.

The workforce at the Dundonald firm was sent home after managers made the announcement to staff at 0900 GMT on Friday.

TK-ECC, usually known as European Components, makes seat belts and is set to close in four weeks' time.

Managers at the firm, on the outskirts of east Belfast, are blaming "overwhelming competition" from abroad.

Regional Secretary of the Amicus Union Peter Williamson said the news had come as a huge blow to the workforce.

"The company had been experiencing some difficulties, but we believed the management and ourselves had it turned around," he said.

"It is completely out of the blue for the both the workforce and the trade union."

The priority now is to help those who have been made redundant, and we will strive to ensure the best possible outcome for all affected
Ian Pearson
Enterprise Minister

It is understood that trade union representatives will be meeting factory managers on Monday.

In January 2003, the firm announced that 300 jobs were to go.

The plant is one of the biggest employers in the Dundonald area, and at one stage employed 800.

In December 1999, the firm's Tokyo-based parent company, Takata Corporation, said it was investing 12m in its Northern Ireland plant.

The investment included a 2m contribution from the then Industrial Development Board for Northern Ireland. It brought the total pumped into Northern Ireland by the firm to 40m.

'Employment options'

Enterprise Minister Ian Pearson said business agency Invest Northern Ireland had been working closely with TK-ECC but the firm said its closure was a commercial decision "taken in the light of changes in the global structure of manufacturing".

"The priority now is to help those who have been made redundant, and we will strive to ensure the best possible outcome for all affected," he said.

"Invest NI, working with the Department of Employment and Learning and other government agencies, will provide counselling for those who have lost their jobs and help them to take advantage of retraining opportunities or to examine self-employment options."

Strangford Democratic Unionist Party MP Iris Robinson said it was "difficult to accurately describe the depth of my disappointment on hearing this latest news".

The company had been experiencing some difficulties, but we believed the management and ourselves had it turned around
Peter Williamson
Amicus

"When TK-ECC laid off 300 of their employees last year, the Strangford economy shuddered, so the loss of a further 550 jobs and the closure of the company will be devastating," she said.

East Belfast assembly member Sir Reg Empey said the latest job losses were a further devastating blow to manufacturing in the area.

"I am calling on the minister for enterprise, Ian Pearson, and the government in general to recognise the crisis in UK manufacturing which is receiving very little attention on the national political agenda," he said.

East Belfast SDLP representative Leo Van Es described the job losses as "a serious tragedy".

South Africa

Meanwhile, the loss of 270 textile jobs in County Tyrone has been described as a devastating blow to the local economy.

Management at Herdman's spinning mill told its workforce on Thursday that manufacturing would cease in Sion Mills.

The company has been experiencing difficulties in recent years, and had opened a plant in South Africa in an effort to cut costs.

It is understood that its manufacturing will now be carried out in South Africa, although the business will still be run from Northern Ireland.

Sion Mills
The firm has been based in Sion Mills since 1835
The company has operated in Sion Mills since 1835.

It said in a statement that it had attempted to maintain its levels of employment in the area, but its considerable losses in recent years could no longer be sustained.

SDLP assemblyman Eugene McMenamin said he would be seeking a meeting with NIO minister Ian Pearson to address these and other job losses in the area.

"This building has been there for over 170 years - generations have worked there," he said.

Transport and General Workers' Union spokesman Jimmy Quinn said it would be very difficult for those who had lost their jobs to find new work and called for the government to help.

"It's a total hammer blow to the people of Sion Mills," he said.

Last April, about 160 people were made redundant at the County Tyrone textiles firm.

Northern Ireland's textiles industry has been hit by thousands of job losses in recent years, due to heavy competition from low wage economies, particularly in eastern Europe and the Far East.




WATCH AND LISTEN
BBC NI's Will Leitch:
"Union representatives will meet factory managers on Monday"


BBC NI's Keiron Tourish:
"The company has been experiencing difficulties in recent years"



SEE ALSO:
Devastation as firms close
20 Feb 04  |  Northern Ireland
298 jobs to go at east Belfast plant
20 Jan 03  |  Northern Ireland
Payoffs at textiles firm
29 Apr 03  |  Northern Ireland
Jobs blow hits textile industry
07 Feb 03  |  Northern Ireland


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