Belfast Telegraph

Gallahers cigarette factory 'to shut' with loss of 1,000 Ballymena jobs

By Claire Cromie

Gallahers cigarette factory is to shut down - meaning the loss of 1,000 jobs in Ballymena, the owners have confirmed.

The company which runs the plant, JTI, has told workers they are on a 90-day redundancy notice.

North Antrim MP Ian Paisley said the "devastating" news signals the end of the Gallaher era.

"From May 2016 the first redundancies will commence and the key will be turned for the last time in the factory a year later," he said.

"Today my heart goes out to these people, many of whom are personal friends, who have been effectively told that the Gallaher era is coming to an end.

"Those who championed over-regulation of this industry, and I am prepared to name them, should today hang their heads in shame.

"They have effectively accelerated over 800 local bread winners onto the ranks of the unemployed. Each year almost £60 million is pumped into the local wage economy by JTI. From 2017 that will be over."

Japan Tobacco International (JTI) said the "restructure" was a result of significant and sustained changes impacting its global business.

A statement said: "The challenging economic environment, excise tax pressure coupled with illegal trade has triggered industry volume contraction in a number of key European countries.

"This is compounded by the need to comply with legislation, including the revised EU Tobacco Products Directive (TPD2), which will significantly reduce the number of pack formats to be produced for various markets. This inevitably has led to the need to review JTI’s manufacturing operations.

"JTI will undertake appropriate consultations on proposals to change its product sourcing, which could lead to the closure of some of its manufacturing sites. JTI’s facilities in Lisnafillan (Northern Ireland) and Wervik (Belgium) would cease to operate, with production moving to other facilities, potentially in Poland and Romania."

The company said support for affected employees would be discussed as part of the consultation process.

"This restructuring proposal will allow JTI to optimize its operations, strengthen its competitive position and achieve its financial commitments in a challenging operating environment. Its implementation is to be phased, recognizing the needs of each country, with factory closures completed between 2016 and 2018."

NIIRTA Chief Executive Glyn Roberts said it was shocking news for the local economy in Ballymena and surrounding towns.

“Gallahers generated £60million of wages into the local economy which will be a big loss in spending for local retailers and those businesses who provided goods and services to the company throughout the North Antrim area.”

Mr Paisley said he would try to meet with the management of JTI "to see if this devastating blow could be softened".

"I am in no doubt that this news equates to the same magnitude of the loss of Northern Ireland's other key manufacturing jobs and is a very dark day for our province."

Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster said today’s announcement was "devastating news for the affected workers, their families and the local community as a whole".

"Many of the staff have been with the company for much of their working lives and will have expected to stay there for the foreseeable future," she said.

"My thoughts are with them as they struggle to come to terms with the prospect of having to seek employment elsewhere."

SDLP MLA Patsy McGlone said the jobs losses at the Ballymena factory would be "devastating to the local economy".

"This is a huge blow to the local economy and the wider economic recovery. My thoughts are first and foremost with those who are to lose their jobs and their families at this time of huge uncertainty," he said.

"This is devastating news both for Ballymena and the north more widely. It is important now that we take all possible steps to mitigate against the loss of jobs on such a large scale."

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