Union claims up to 400 jobs at risk in Moy Park cutback
Poultry giant Moy Park has blamed "challenging market conditions" for a decision to temporarily halt some production at one of its Northern Ireland factories.
It is understood no job losses are being considered with staff being moved to other sites, or into different roles until production fully resumes.
However, a union official dismissed the company's stance, claiming up to 400 jobs could be under threat.
The company said it will cease processing of live birds at the Ballymena plant which will have a knock-on effect on its nearby hatchery. Other production processes will continue at the plant.
Around 1,700 people are employed at the site.
A spokesman added: "Moy Park is proposing to temporarily cease processing live birds at Ballymena due to challenging market conditions, with the view that we will re-open the line in January 2020. In line with this, it is proposed the North Antrim hatchery will temporarily cease hatching until November 2019.
"We will continue to cut, further process and pack at Ballymena, including retail production of our BBQ products.
"We are working with our colleagues and their representatives doing our utmost to minimise the impact of this proposal on our excellent workforce, including offering temporary transfers to other shifts and roles.
"We will also be working closely with our farming partners throughout the process to manage this temporary reduction in poultry requirement."
Moy Park is one of Northern Ireland's biggest employers and is a huge buyer of poultry on both sides of the border.
Headquartered in Craigavon, Co Armagh, it employs 6,300 people across Northern Ireland and 12,000 more at operations in the Republic and elsewhere in Europe.
Founded in 1943, it was bought by JBS from Marfig for £1.2bn in 2015 before being sold on to the Pilgrim's Pride Corporation, a subsidiary of JBS, in September 2017.
That purchase is currently subject of legal proceedings in the States by shareholders to determine if the purchase was fair.
Last year it was reported the company had a record turnover of £1.5bn with pre-tax profits of £64m.
Unite union representative Sean McKeever questioned the temporary nature of the shutdown of the kill-line and hatchery in Ballymena, and claimed it posed a threat to 400 jobs.
"Unite is highly concerned at this news of a temporary closure of the 'kill-line' at Ballymena," he said.
"Our members on the shop-floor are reporting that they have been told that this will result in up to 400 job losses although the company are telling the media that there will be no job losses and that redundancies can be avoided through redeployment elsewhere.
"Moy Park's latest annual pre-tax profits were just short of £60m - an enormous increase of 67% on the year previously.
"This is not a company that needs to squeeze its workforce - this is a company which is attacking workers' pay and conditions to maximise profits for their corporate shareholders."
Mr McKeever added that the workforce had little confidence that the promised investment will happen, or that the line will reopen as promised in January 2020.
The SDLP's Eugene Reid said he will be contacting management to ask for reassurances "that all staff are redeployed fairly and reasonably and that no staff member will be financially worse off by having to be redeployed elsewhere".
Mr Reid, who is standing in the Mid & East Antrim council elections, said: "I will also be asking for urgent clarification that no member of staff will be laid off, whether that be now or in the near future."