Belfast Telegraph

JTI tobacco factory will close after plan to save jobs in Ballymena rejected

By Nevin Farrell

The closure of the JTI tobacco factory in Ballymena will go ahead despite last-ditch efforts by unions to save jobs, it has been confirmed.

JTI yesterday rejected a rescue package from unions which would have saved 500 of the overall 882 workforce at the firm's Lisnafillan factory by transforming the plant into a 'Centre of Excellence' for pouch tobacco and cigar manufacture.

JTI met unions yesterday afternoon but spurned union Unite's proposals and confirmed it was pushing ahead with the factory closure.

The first jobs are expected to go in May next year with complete closure in early 2017 at the Lisnafillan site.

There was an angry response from unions and politicians.

Unite's Regional Secretary Jimmy Kelly accused the firm of "social dumping" by minimising costs by shifting manufacturing to eastern Europe.

North Antrim Ulster Unionist MLA Robin Swann said: "The rejection of the union's positive and proactive approach is a kick in the teeth to the workers and a two-fingered salute to the years of hard work and dedication that the people of Ballymena and the surrounding area have given to JTI."

JTI said it "will work together with local leaders and politicians to address the needs of the community".

Firm spokesman Paul Williams said: "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.

"More than 800 full-time employees could be affected. The first effect on jobs should not be felt until May 2016, coinciding with the date on which the revised EU Tobacco Products Directive will take effect.

"The plans for the closure are expected to be completed in early 2017, with production gradually moving from 2015 to other facilities in Poland and Romania."

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

"JTI rejected our counter-proposal as they have a strategic long-term goal of shifting employment from western to eastern Europe.

"This decision is an extreme case of 'social dumping' where employers seek to minimise costs through chasing lower cost alternatives."

North Antrim DUP MP Ian Paisley said the announcement was "extremely disappointing".

Belfast Telegraph