Belfast Telegraph

Wrightbus: Call for Translink to help company with orders after job losses confirmed

'Hammer blow to workers' as company confirms up to 95 jobs at risk

DUP MP Ian Paisley has called on Translink to help Wrightbus by placing orders for new vehicles, after the company confirmed it is to reduce staff numbers.

Up to 95 jobs are at risk at the bus manufacturer.

The Ballymena firm, which has more than 1,800 staff in Northern Ireland, announced that it had begun a statutory consultation process regarding a potential workforce reduction at its Northern Ireland facilities.

The company said it is currently experiencing "challenging market conditions".

MP Ian Paisley said he understood the prospects for the company were good, "but order books must match the workforce".

"It is essential that in the future, Government bus contracts start to favour local manufacturers so as to avoid such peaks and troughs in the production cycle."

He added: "What I hope now happens is that local companies like Translink start ordering from local companies like Wrightbus.

"That would help its order book quite considerably and it would help obviously if there was someone there to say we need a new fleet of local buses."

Mark Nodder, chairman of Wrights Group, said the firm was facing some very difficult conditions in its domestic market.

"With current order intake for new vehicles at relatively low levels. In order that the business remains competitive in the long term, it is vital that we promptly take appropriate steps to align our production capacity to projected demand in the foreseeable future.

“We have continued to invest in our product range so that it remains best in class in terms of fuel efficiency and environmental performance. The company will therefore be well positioned when market conditions improve."

Mr Nodder said the decision had been taken "with a heavy heart".

As a privately-owned business and one of the largest employers in Northern Ireland, we have not come to this decision lightly and it is done with a heavy heart. However, we operate in dynamic marketplace with competition from around the globe and we must respond and react accordingly. Mark Nodder, chairman of Wrights Group

He added: "We will naturally work with the union and employee representatives to ensure that we manage the process in the most sympathetic way possible for all affected.”

“Given the sensitivities around this announcement, the company will not be making any further statement until the consultation process is concluded.”

The firm is one of Northern Ireland's biggest manufacturers with a turnover of around £260m.

George Brash, regional officer for the Unite Union, said: “This news comes out of the blue to our union who had been informed a number of days ago that there were likely to be line changes due a shortage in parts but we didn’t expect any job losses."

Today’s announcement will be devastating for the workforce, the latest in what has been a series of hammer blows to the Antrim and Ballymena workforce. George Brash, Unite Union

He added: "Wrightbus is one of the last major remaining employers in the area after a spate of site closures over the past two years.

“We understand that the job losses are the result of the loss of sales to Transport for London in addition to the protracted delay in new orders coming in from Translink. In the first case, Unite has lobbied directly the Mayor of London's office making the case to support UK workers.

"The fact that the contract for the purchase of London Transport buses has been transferred to China and Egypt is an inexcusable betrayal of Northern Ireland workers and represents a false economy to the UK taxpayer overall."

The consultation period for redundancies will begin on Wednesday, February 21.

Just last week Wrightbus founder William Wright was honoured for his commitment to the local community with the honour of the Freedom of the Borough by Mid and East Antrim Borough Council.

He was also knighted in the New Year's Honours.

The 90-year-old co-founded the company in Ballymena with his father Robert.

It's the latest setback for the manufacturing powerhouse of Co Antrim. 

Last week, oil services Schlumberger announced it was going ahead with plans to close its Newtownabbey plant, while Williams Industrial Services in Mallusk went into administration with the loss of 145 jobs.

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