Belfast Telegraph

Wrightbus jobs freeze could be down to 'pragmatic planning' or response to UK's Brexit vote

By John Mulgrew

A blanket recruitment freeze at Ballymena bus making giant Wrightbus could be down to "pragmatic planning" or a cautious response to Brexit, it has been claimed.

Wrightbus told staff it was "suspending all recruitment" in order to reduce costs.

In a letter, it says it is facing a "number of challenges" in the local and international markets.

It says "changes to the organisational structure" were needed to "drive increased efficiencies and reduce operating costs throughout the company".

Founder William Wright was one of the few big manufacturers to come out in favour of Brexit.

Wrightbus said the freeze applied to vacancies which were currently open and had been advertised.

"We feel this is necessary in the current economic climate and to ensure that the company remains competitive going forward," the memo said.

Economist John Simpson said: "In order to maintain itself at its present size, it has to be announcing very large orders two or three times a year ... they have been reasonably successful.

"The recruitment freeze could be a careful piece of work to make sure they don't have a cash-flow problem."

Mr Simpson said there is a "grey cloud which causes you to think" about why the firm has made the announcement, shortly after the vote for Brexit.

"They employ large numbers of EU workers, and maybe someone may be taking a cautious view - 'should we be careful about taking on people from Slovakia or somewhere else', based on the Brexit negotiations."

However, he said the phrase "freeze on recruitment" is not the same as redundancy.

"As terms of a first warning, it's mild in nature," he said.

This summer the Belfast Telegraph revealed Wrightbus was in advanced talks over a multi-million pound order for 500 buses for the Kowloon Motor Bus Company in Hong Kong.

Wrightbus employs around 2,000 people and more than doubled its pre-tax profits to £11.6m, on turnover of £297m, in its most recent results.

In March, the firm confirmed a £62m order for 195 of its Routemaster buses from Transport for London. It's understood that deal is still going ahead.

Earlier this year the company was offering apprenticeship schemes that were being supported by the former Department for Employment and Learning (DEL).

A spokeswoman for the now Department for the Economy said: "Any recruitment of apprentices is a matter for individual companies."

Stephen Kelly, chief executive of Manufacturing NI, said: "I wouldn't be too alarmed. Wrightbus is a great company and they have a great product. Like most businesses in the environment we are currently in, and with what's coming down the line in terms of added costs - such as the apprenticeship levy and the National Living Wage - everyone is being mindful of keeping costs under control in order to protect them from any future shock in the economy."

Trade union Unite said the freeze "heightens uncertainty among our membership and the wider workforce" which is "particularly concerning" given huge job losses at JTI Gallaher and Michelin.

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