JTI ponders union move to save 500 jobs at Gallaher's in Ballymena
Cigarette maker JTI has said it is considering a trade union proposal which could save 500 jobs at the troubled Gallaher's in Ballymena.
Unite the Union has revealed a plan to develop the Lisnafillan complex, which is earmarked for gradual closure from 2016, into a 'centre of excellence' for pouch tobacco and cigars.
Unite said the plan would retain 500 out of approximately 876 jobs at the plant.
A spokesman for Japanese firm JTI said it had formed a 'working group' with representatives from Unite. The group would "share and consider all the commercial numbers that underpin the proposal, enabling counter-proposals to be formulated and tabled".
Consultation was "exactly as it should be, open and transparent to ensure responsible and fair treatment of JTI employees in Ballymena".
He said there would be no further comment.
Last month JTI said it was planning to close the factory, which has been the location of cigarette making for around 150 years, and shift most production to Romania and Poland. A factory in Belgium will also close.
Unite regional secretary Jimmy Kelly said: "Unite has sought to develop a viable alternative which would see as many jobs as possible retained at Lisnafillan - we are now bringing that to our members at the factory to secure their agreement.
"JTI indicated that closing the plant would result in cost-savings of $89m a year."
Mr Kelly added: "Our counter-proposal would realise cost-savings of $60m through the loss of jobs for cigarette manufacture, the adoption of lean production for pouch tobacco and cigar production at Lisnafillan and concessions on the issue of worker terms and conditions."
He claimed the proposal would save JTI around $150m in costs and reduce the redundancy bill for the 876-strong workforce.
He said the union was also aiming to highlight the benefits of remaining in Ballymena, including the area's skill base and strong staff retention.
Rachel Penny, a partner and employment law expert at Carson McDowell, said there were some precedents of consultations resulting in jobs being spared.