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Londonderry shirt maker lays off staff after losing 'main customer'

By Margaret Cannning

Workers at an upmarket shirt maker in Londonderry have been temporarily laid off after the loss of a customer, it has emerged.

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Staff at Smyth & Gibson on Victoria Road in the city have been sent a letter telling them that the loss of the customer means there will be no work for them from April 9 to May 14.

It's understood around 50 staff in its workforce of around 54 are affected.

The identity of the customer is not revealed but according to the company's website, stockists include Selfridges in London and its sister department store, Arnotts in Dublin.

Last year the company also received funding of £500,000 from the Growth Loan Fund to help it explore new export markets and create four new jobs.

A letter to staff seen by the Belfast Telegraph refers to a meeting last month when staff were told that the company had lost "one of our main customers".

It adds: "Through discussions I have been able to secure one final order from them which in turn will allow some time for the business to source further work from potential new clients.

"However, as a result of this current situation, this has caused some difficulty in work flow and we will have no work in the factory until mid-May. Therefore it is with regret that due to this we have made the decision to temporarily lay you off work for approximately five weeks."

Staff will be entitled to £27 per day for the first five days.

The letter adds: "We accept that this is a very difficult time for everyone and I would like to personally thank you for your understand in the current circumstances we find ourselves in."

Foyle DUP MLA Gary Middleton said: "My office is currently assisting several staff from the shirt factory after they were contacted by management to inform them that they have lost one of their main customers.

"Approximately 50 staff have been informed that a decision has been taken to temporarily lay them off for five weeks, allowing time to source further work from potential new clients. This has obviously caused much concern among the staff.

"I have already made contact with the company. I will continue to work with those affected and to provide advice and guidance where appropriate."

The company did not respond to a request for comment.

Belfast Telegraph