By Q Radio News
An MP has urged a Chinese-owned company in Co Armagh to reconsider its decision to pay off 350 workers.
Thompson Aero Seating has sites in Portadown, Carn, and Banbridge which make seating for the aircraft industry.
Upper Bann representative Carla Lockhart has met with many of the workers who took to social media to vent anger following the announcement yesterday.
She says they were reduced to tears as a result of the "devastating blow" to the local community.
“This is a devastating blow for the workers affected, for their families and for the local economy. First and foremost my thoughts are with them," Mrs Lockhart added.
"This is an extremely difficult time for business.
"The impact of COVID-19 is impacting on all aspects of our economy. Undoubtedly the aviation industry has felt the pain more acutely than most and thus has contributed to the decision to let these workers go."
Mrs Lockhart has urged management to explore whether anything can be done to save jobs including making use of government financial schemes set up to mitigate the impact of the global pandemic.
"Thompson Aerospace are a large employer and it is sad to see that so many workers have lost their job. I have urged them to place these employees on furlough rather than making them redundant as we will emerge from this crisis eventually.
"When speaking with Senior Management at the company I outlined the many concerns of the remaining workers concerning COVID-19 and ask for their to be direct engagement with the employees regarding safety measures and social distancing.
"I will continue to liaise with them to ensure that they adhere to the Government guidelines. At this time of great concern for people’s health and well-being it is important that people feel safe in their work environment.”
MLA Doug Beattie also said the news was a blow to the area, adding that the firm had been “on life support” because of the hit taken by the air commercial aircraft industry during the coronavirus outbreak.
“The layoffs are a direct result of Covid-19,” he said.
“It’s a blow to the area — but it’s not surprising.”
The Upper Bann MLA said he thought the company was now in survival mode,
“These are worrying times. Covid-19 is reaching into every corner of our society.”
350 staff paid off by Thompson’s Aero Seats in Portadown with no apparent attempt to use Govt Furlough scheme which could have secured 80% of their wages !— John O' Dowd (@JohnODowdSF) March 27, 2020
Upper Bann MLA John O’Dowd said the firm “could and should” have accessed the UK government’s Furlough scheme for salary protection during the virus emergency.
“They now face huge uncertainty when the company could have secured 80% of their wages," he said.
“I call on management at Thompson’s, even at this eleventh hour, to release these workers under the Furlough scheme rather than laying them off."
Thompson Aero Seating makes business-class seats for commercial airlines.
In a statement, it said it was releasing the majority of its remaining workers, including agency, temporary and contractor roles.
“Whilst TAS deeply regrets this decision, it is necessary to ensure operations match the demand from our customers," it said.
"Our global airline customers have had to delay, reduce and reschedule their orders, and our business, which designs, engineers and manufactures premium class airline seating, has therefore been directly impacted."
The firm's parent company - China Aviation Industry Corporation - reported a drastic slump in profits in 2019, making a £27.7m loss the previous year.