The US Department of Commerce ruling has put over 4,000 jobs in the North under threat
A new US trade ruling which could threaten thousands of jobs in the North has been described as a “hammer blow” for workers.
The US Department of Commerce has hit Canadian aerospace firm Bombardier with a punitive import duty of nearly 220% on its new model of passenger jet.
The wings for the new C-Series are manufactured in Northern Ireland.
Bombardier employs more than 4,000 people in Belfast and contributes an estimated £400m (€457m) to the Northern economy.
The company has warned that its C-Series model is "critical" to its Belfast operation.
The ruling stems from claims by rival US firm Boeing that Bombardier received unfair state subsidies from the UK and Canada - allowing it to sell airliners at below cost prices in the US.
Announcing the US government’s initial finding, the country’s secretary of commerce Wilbur Ross said the subsidisation of goods by foreign governments was something the Trump administration "takes very seriously."
A final ruling is expected to be made in February.
Unions have described the ruling as a “hammer blow” while the UK government has labelled Boeing’s stance “unjustified.”
Sheet metal worker Noel Gibson, who has been employed at the Bombardier factory for 27 years, said the workforce will suffer.
“It is workers that will lose out in any dispute,” he said. “That is what politicians need to realise.”
“They need to emphasise to Boeing that they need to settle this without putting thousands of jobs at risk.”
A spokesperson for the UK government said the ruling was "only the first step in the process."
"Boeing's position in this case is unjustified and frankly not what we would expect of a long-term partner to the UK - as well as damaging the wider global aerospace industry," she said.
British Prime Minister Theresa May has lobbied US President Donald Trump over the dispute, and raised it in talks with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on a visit there last week.
Bombardier labelled the decision "absurd" and said Boeing was guilty of hypocrisy.
Boeing warned however that the row "had nothing to do with limiting innovation or competition" but was about "maintaining a level playing field and ensuring that aerospace companies abide by trade agreements."
Unions accused Mrs May of being "asleep at the wheel" on the dispute, saying the preliminary finding was "unlikely" to be overturned by Mr Trump.
Ross Murdoch, the GMB union's national officer, said it was a "hammer blow" to Belfast and could have wider ramifications.
On top of the 4,000 people directly employed at Bombardier's plant, Mr Murdoch warned another 9,400 supply chain jobs could be wiped out.
Additional reporting from IRN ...