Belfast Telegraph

Gallaher jobs rescue plan rejected

A proposal to save more than half of the 900 jobs set to be lost through the closure of a cigarette factory in Northern Ireland has been rejected.

The JTI Gallaher plant at Lisnafillan near Ballymena, Co Antrim, has fallen victim to a restructuring programme being implemented by its Japanese owners Japan Tobacco International (JTI).

The closure was announced last year but union Unite and management had tabled joint proposals that would have seen 500 jobs retained by turning the factory into a centre for pouch tobacco and cigar manufacturing.

But following a consultation period, JTI today confirmed it is pushing ahead with the original closure plan. The factory will cease operations in 2017.

Paul Williams, JTI UK's head of corporate affairs and communications, said: "After conducting the first phase of our consultation and having carefully considered the joint Unite employee and management counter-proposal as well as different alternatives, the company has come to the conclusion that our initial proposal to close the Lisnafillan facility remains the most viable option for JTI in the long term.

"The challenging economic conditions and declining sales, coupled with greater regulatory and tax pressures, remain the catalyst for our proposal."

One of the factors JTI has cited in its rationale for closure is the tightening of regulations on plain packaging in the UK as a consequence of adopting the EU Tobacco Products Directive, which will come into effect in 2016.

JTI is shifting production to Poland and Romania.

Mr Williams added: "We take our responsibilities seriously and we will ensure that during the next phase of the consultation process, our employees will be supported and treated fairly. We recognise the effect that this announcement could have and we will work together with local leaders and politicians to address the needs of the community."

Unite union regional secretary Jimmy Kelly criticised JTI's announcement.

"Our proposal was a highly developed, strong and viable proposal to safeguard employment at Lisnafillan," he said.

"This counter-proposal would have seen more than 500 jobs saved by transforming the factory into a centre of excellence for pouch tobacco and cigar manufacture. It was overwhelmingly endorsed by our members who agreed to a range of cost savings impacting their terms and conditions in order to save employment at the site."

He said the decision reflected what he described as inadequate statutory protection for skilled workers in the UK.

"JTI's rejected our counter-proposal as they have a strategic long-term goal of shifting employment from Western to Eastern Europe," he said.

"This decision is an extreme case of 'social dumping' where employers seek to minimise costs through chasing lower cost alternatives. The workforce at Lisnafillan is highly skilled, experienced and motivated - this is the wrong decision."

North Antrim MP Ian Paisley expressed disappointment.

"Since the initial announcement of the consultation before Christmas I have continued to lobby the UK government to reconsider the introduction of plain-packaging and delay the Tobacco Products Directive in light of the lack of evidence to suggest their introduction would have any positive impact on smoking statistics within the United Kingdom whilst the economic impact in Ballymena would be devastating.

"I have directly lobbied the Prime Minister, Secretary of State (Theresa Villiers) and the Business Innovation and Skills department. However, the die has been cast and the tentacles of European bureaucracy have reached in and stripped this factory bare."

The DUP representative added: "The Prime Minister this week stated that the UK is to become the factory of Europe. The challenge is now before him to include Northern Ireland in that vision and deliver new jobs to this region."

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