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Question marks over FG Wilson'’s future after job lay-offs

Fri, 11/16/2012 - 17:36 -- Ruth Williams

3-6Genset manufacturer FG Wilson has announced 760 job losses at its four manufacturing facilities in Northern Ireland.

The Caterpillar-owned firm said the measures had been taken to reduce costs in response to lower demand for small generator sets from customers because of the ongoing Eurozone crisis. Redundancies of employees and agency workers will be complete by the end of 2012 at the facilities in Larne, Belfast, Springvale and Monkstown.

The latest redundancies followed a separate announcement in June that FG Wilson was moving production of its 5.5 to 22 kVA 400 Series gensets to Tianjin, China, to be closer to its growing customer base. Approximately 70% of its small generators will now be made in China, the company said.

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

The Chief Executive of Northern Ireland’s regional economic development agency Invest NI, Alastair Hamilton, said he is disappointed but not surprised at the job losses at FG Wilson.

“The things that are driving this decision are the reduction of demand in the Eurozone and the increase in demand in the Far East,” Hamilton told BBC Ulster. “We’re shocked at the numbers, but not about the trend. The trend is there right across the board,” he said.

“If I was running that organisation and accountable to shareholders the way they are to do the job they’ve got to do, then absolutely, around that boardroom table as a businessman I can tell you people will be looking at ‘what are the dynamics of our market?’

“Caterpillar were bringing components for these generators in from China, they were assembling and putting other pieces of them in Northern Ireland, then shipping them back to China.” When asked if he would have made the same decision to move some of the manufacturing to China he said: “If I was in that job, in all possibility, yes.”

A company insider told the Belfast Telegraph that the business had become uneconomical for FG Wilson due to a lack of orders. “People on the ground believe that over 1 300 employees will have lost their jobs by the end of 2013,” the source said. 

“In five years FG Wilson is not going to be a brand anymore; FG Wilson, as we know it, will not exist in Northern Ireland in five years. They’ll probably keep engineers on the R&D side, but everyone in the industry believes there will be no manufacturing in Northern Ireland.”

FG Wilson has been a wholly owned subsidiary of Caterpillar since 1999 and is one of Europe’s largest diesel generating set manufacturers. It has production facilities in Northern Ireland, Brazil, China, India and the USA, and is one of the UK’s top 100 exporters.