MLAs urged to match £5m job support fund for tobacco firm staff
Stormont is not doing enough to help the hundreds of workers who will lose their jobs when the JTI Gallaher factory in Ballymena closes next year, a leading union has claimed.
Unite called on the Executive to match a £5m legacy fund established by the tobacco firm to support workers.
A total of 870 jobs will be lost when production ends at the Co Antrim factory next year. Some 500 people have already been made redundant.
Yesterday, JTI announced the creation of the £5m fund to support job creation and skills development for workers affected by the closure.
Around £300,000 will be spent every year for the next two decades as part of the scheme.
The charitable trust will be chaired by North Antrim DUP MP Ian Paisley, who welcomed the programme.
"JTI Gallaher has been at the heart of my constituency for many years, and this significant commitment by the company to the local community will help deliver real opportunities for job creation and skills development," Mr Paisley said.
"I look forward to working with the trust and the local community to maximise the positive impact of this legacy for the people of Ballymena."
Unite, which fought for the establishment of a fund when the closure of the factory was announced, also welcomed yesterday's confirmation.
But the union added it had been "underwhelmed" by the response from the Executive, and said the Government should match the money stumped up by the company.
Unite regional coordinating officer Davy Thompson explained: "We welcome the fact that they have now followed through on this commitment and announced this £5m fund.
"Unite believes that the priority should be to benefit those young people who will not now be able to find work in JTI's Ballymena factory. This is a town that badly needs investment and jobs.
"So far, we have been underwhelmed by the response of our policy-makers in Stormont, who have refused to bring forward the proactive industrial strategy needed to attract jobs for the thousands of skilled workers in the Ballymena area.
"In the context where Ballymena faces the loss of a similar number of jobs at Michelin over the next 24 months, Unite is calling on the Northern Ireland Executive to match what JTI have put on the table and create a fund capable of meeting the challenges of the future."
Charlie Cunningham-Reid, JTI UK's head of corporate affairs and communications, said he was happy with the scheme.
"We have supported the local community since Tom Gallaher's very first charitable donation back in 1897," Mr Cunningham-Reid added.
"Following the announcement of our factory closure, JTI made a commitment to continue this support, and we believe the creation of this trust will leave a lasting legacy for the people of Ballymena."