Belfast Telegraph

Union proposal to save 500 jobs at Gallaher's: Ballymena cigarette factory to close by 2017

By John Mulgrew

Plans to save some 500 jobs at Ballymena cigarette factory JTI Gallaher's have been put forward by the UK's biggest trade union.

Unite's proposal for the Japanese-owned Lisnafillan plant would see it become a 'centre of excellence for pouch tobacco and cigar production'.

Last month it was announced that 876 jobs were set to go at the Ballymena plant - which has been producing tobacco for more than 150 years.

The new proposal would see the firm retaining around two-thirds of the workforce.

But it's cost-cutting plans would see the loss of some 376 job losses, with the closure of its cigarette lines.

Workers at the factory told the Belfast Telegraph earlier this month, of their shock and devastation at the news.

Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster and Employment Minister Dr Stephen Farry were have also been involved in last ditch talks with members of JTI Gallaher in attempts to save the iconic Ballymena factory from complete closure.

Further talks are to take place this month.

The Unite union said it was bringing its new job-saving proposal to its members to "secure their agreement".

Regional secretary Jimmy Kelly said:

"Our counter-proposal would realise cost-savings of $60 million 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.

"Our proposal would save JTI approximately $150 million (£96 million) in capital and other transition costs and would significantly reduce the redundancy costs associated with all 876 workers losing their jobs.

"We are also seeking to highlight the benefits of remaining in Ballymena – where there is an excellent skills-base, strong staff retention and security around energy supply and other risk factors."

The announcement that 870 staff would lose their jobs at the Ballymena cigarette factory came as a severe shock to the town.

And while Belfast has witnessed an upsurge in a series of major job announcements in recent months and years, manufacturing has witnessed a handful of severe blows.

In September, Bombardier announced it was cutting almost 400 jobs at its Belfast base.

BACKGROUND

JTI announced it planned to close its Ballymena factory with the loss of almost 900 jobs. North Antrim MP Ian Paisley said the decision was a "body blow" to the economy. "Each year almost £60m is pumped into the local wage economy by JTI. From 2017 that will be over," he said. JTI said it was restructuring "as a result of significant and sustained changes impacting its global business". Gallaher, founded in 1857, was bought by JTI in 2007.

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