Gallaher staff to be kept on for extra five months
Around 60 staff at the JTI Gallaher factory in Ballymena will get an extra five months work after its final closure was delayed.
The plant is being kept open to meet the tobacco supply needs of its Japanese owner - a move which will bring up to £5million in wages into the town's economy.
It has also been revealed that bus giant Wright Group, which is also based in Ballymena, will take possession of the site on December 1 after it reached a deal to buy it once it is vacated after JTI's shutdown.
Most of JTI's 800-strong workforce left their posts last year but 60 remaining staff will be kept on.
In a letter to North Antrim DUP MP Ian Paisley, JTI's head of corporate affairs wrote that production would be extended by five months until the end of October.
Charlie Cunningham-Reid wrote that the extension was necessary to finalise plans for a move of production to a factory in Poland, pending implementation of new EU regulations affecting the industry.
And the letter also confirmed that Wright Group would then take up possession on December 1.
A JTI spokesman said: "JTI can confirm that the production of rolling tobacco at our Lisnafillan factory in Ballymena will be extended by five months until the end of October 2017.
"This extension will provide the flexibility to deliver the latest production plans as EU markets implement the new TPD2 regulations and we transition production to our Polish factory.
"We would like to thank the 60 plus members of the Lisnafillan team who will continue to support the business and also Wrights Group who will now take full possession of our factory site on December 1st 2017."
JTI Gallaher announced it was closing down around two years ago.
And Michelin, another major employer in the town, later announced it is shutting down.
Around 860 jobs will go with the tyre manufacturer's final closure in 2018.
Mr Paisley said that JTI's move to extend production by five months was a welcome development for workers and the town's economy.
Earlier this month it emerged that Wrightbus, which employs around 1,500 people in Ballymena, had won a £4million deal for 27 buses from Scottish transport giant Stagecoach.
Wrightbus commercial director Sam McLaren said the company was "delighted" with the development.
"The open-top double deck vehicles are the first purpose-built buses of this type ever to be ordered by Stagecoach," Mr McLaren said.