Up to 760 jobs are to be axed by a major engineering company in Northern Ireland, it was announced today.
FG Wilson, which is part of the international Caterpillar corporation, said the job losses are part of measures to make the business more efficient and competitive.
The announcement was made as the Stormont first minister Peter Robinson and deputy first minister Martin McGuinness headed a mini-summit to discuss the worsening economy and Northern Ireland's unemployment rate of 8.2%.
The company said the 760 workers set to lose their posts include 170 agency employees who were told their jobs would go earlier this summer.
The move comes in the wake of FG Wilson's announcement in June that it plans to move production of its 400 series generator sets to Tianjin, China, in order to build the product closer to the growing customer base.
The company makes diesel generator sets in Larne, County Antrim, but three other sites in the greater Belfast area will also be affected by the cuts.
Robert Kennedy, the company's Northern Ireland operations director, said: “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. We'll also help redeploy displaced workers by providing training on new skill sets, partnering with potential Northern Ireland employers to host job fairs and hiring a placement service.
“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.”
Union leaders said they were shocked by the scale of the redundancies. Unite's regional secretary Jimmy Kelly said he was furious at the decision. He said: “The company has once again thrown industrial relations guidelines back to Victorian times. Our members are spitting tacks at the way they are being treated.
“The high-calibre job losses are a crushing blow to the east Antrim area and Northern Ireland. The company has not given its workers or their union representatives the opportunity to negotiate a plan which would have attempted to keep some of the affected workers employed.”
Northern Ireland enterprise minister Arlene Foster said the job losses were a huge blow. She said: “This is devastating for the hundreds of families who will be affected, particularly when so many people are already struggling in this difficult economic climate.”