Belfast Telegraph

Wrightbus staff told of 1,200 job losses as union confirms firm has entered administration

Workers at Wrightbus in Ballymena leave with personal tools on Wednesday. Credit: Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Workers at Wrightbus in Ballymena leave with personal tools on Wednesday. Credit: Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
A completed Bus Eireann bus leaves the Wrightbus plant in Ballymena, Northern Ireland, on the day the family-owned firm which built London's distinctive red double decker Routemaster buses goes into administration. Wednesday September 25, 2019.
Workers leave the Wrightbus Chassis plant in Antrim, Northern Ireland, after the family-owned firm which built London's distinctive red double decker Routemaster buses is poised to go into administration. Wednesday September 25, 2019.
Workers leave the Wrightbus Chassis plant in Antrim, Northern Ireland, after the family-owned firm which built London's distinctive red double decker Routemaster buses is poised to go into administration. Wednesday September 25, 2019.
Workers leave the Wrightbus Chassis plant in Antrim, Northern Ireland, after the family-owned firm which built London's distinctive red double decker Routemaster buses is poised to go into administration. Wednesday September 25, 2019.
Workers walking to the Wrightbus plant in Ballymena, Northern Ireland, as the family-owned firm which built London's distinctive red double decker Routemaster buses is poised to go into administration. PWednesday September 25, 2019.
Workers at Wrightbus in Ballymena meet with management on Wednesday , September 25, 2019

By Margaret Canning, Mark McConville and Andrew Madden

Around 1,200 staff at Ballymena bus manufacturer Wrightbus have been told they have lost their jobs, after the firm entered administration on Wednesday morning.

North Antrim DUP MP Ian Paisley said that he expected that under administration, all staff will be paid up until last week. 

“All get statutory redundancy and if they want paid for this week they have to claim against company assets," he said.

“My hope is that a buyer comes in quickly and rehires two-thirds of them.”

Footage of the meeting seen by the Belfast Telegraph shows hundreds of staff hearing the dismal news about their future.

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Workers at Wrightbus in Ballymena leave with personal tools on Wednesday. Credit: Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

The workforce has been estimated at 1,250 people but the recording refers to “about 1,200” redundancy forms to be sent out.

They are also asked to surrender any company property such as mobiles, laptops and computers.

Staff have also been provided with an employee document answering questions. 

The union speaker tells staff that there’s also an employee helpline email address. 

And it describes how the redundancy forms will be sent out as a matter of urgency. “You’ll appreciate we have about 1,200 forms to send so we’re getting those out as soon as possible.”

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Workers at Wrightbus in Ballymena leave with personal tools on Wednesday. Credit: Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

Asked what the likely wait is for entitlements, the union representative said “four to six weeks”. 

But he said there were concerns that the mass redundancies at Thomas Cook after the travel giant went into liquidation could impact "the speed in which their applications are processed.”

“All we can do is process your claims, if I’m honest what I’m concerned with is any impact of those time scales as a consequence of those redundancies," he said.

Footage from outside the factory shows scores of staff leaving, many carrying their tools.

Directors at the maker of the so-called ‘Boris bus’ had been in talks with companies including Chinese giant Weichai and entrepreneur Jo Bamford - whose family owns equipment giant JCB - about a sale.

But talks broke down last week, with the amount of rent to be paid on the company’s premises believed to be a stumbling block.

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Workers at Wrightbus in Ballymena leave with personal tools on Wednesday. Credit: Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

Unite regional secretary Jackie Pollock said Prime Minister Boris Johnson must now step in to save jobs at Wrightbus, following assurances he gave just three months ago.

“Prime Minister Boris Johnson has made great play about how he stands strong for British industry. He must now intervene to safeguard these workers’ jobs and skills and a future for Ballymena by nationalising this business – there’s no EU state aid rules that could prevent it," he said.

“Ballymena has already lost thousands of decent, union jobs with the closure of JTI-Gallaher and Michelin in recent year, and most recently 86 jobs at Blackbourne  – we face the prospect of further devastation should this closure be allowed to proceed.

“Wrightbus is the last UK company capable of producing double-decker buses – indeed buses with advanced renewables technology – needed by commuters in Belfast, Dublin and London and vital to any vision of a transition to a sustainable future. We call on Boris Johnson to ‘take back control’ and nationalise to invest in securing UK bus manufacturing capacity?”

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Workers at Wrightbus in Ballymena meet with management on Wednesday , September 25, 2019

Susan Fitzgerald, regional co-ordinating officer at Unite, said bus company buyers would be "licking their lips".

She said Wrightbus was producing socially-necessary products used by public transport providers in Belfast and Dublin, and it should be given help by the Government.

She added: "They need to be produced and why should be produced for profit? Boris Johnson has a hobby making buses out of wooden crates."

She said he needed to stop his hobby and work to save the Ballymena jobs.

Wrightbus, which was co-founded by Sir William Wright, has faced trading difficulties after a downturn in demand for its products.

 

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Workers at Wrightbus in Ballymena meet with management on Wednesday , September 25, 2019

It is thought to need a cash injection of around £30m to stay in business. The company last night said it had no update on the situation.

As well as 1,200 staff losing their jobs - one of Northern Ireland’s biggest corporate casualties of the last 10 years - dozens of suppliers in the Co Antrim area will be hit by the company’s insolvency, causing a potentially massive ripple effect of further job losses, up 3,500 in total.

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Workers at Wrightbus in Ballymena meet with management on Wednesday , September 25, 2019

The loss of jobs is a major setback for Ballymena, which has lost two other major employers, JTI Gallaher’s and Michelin, in recent years.

Michael Magnay and Peter Allen of professional services firm Deloitte have been appointed as joint administrators to the business and they confirmed the company will be retaining 50 of its 1,250 employees at this time.

“It is bitterly disappointing for all concerned that despite extensive efforts over recent months it has not been possible to find a buyer who wanted to maintain the business as a going concern," Michael Magnay said.

“We recognise the Companies are crucially important employers in Ballymena, and this will be devastating news for those who worked there, their families and the town, which has already suffered from a number of manufacturing closures in recent years. We will continue to support employees through this difficult time.

“The joint administrators will explore all remaining options for the business and assets, and would encourage any parties with an interest to contact them.”

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Boris Johnson, then mayor of London, unveils a life-size mock-up of the new hop-on, hop-off double-decker bus for London (Lewis Whyld/PA)

Sinn Fein MLA Philip McGuigan described the development as a "tragedy" for the workforce and a "hammer blow" to the economy.

“Wrightbus is a huge employer in its own right but also a massive part of the manufacturing supply chain so this will have a major knock-on effect on smaller sub contractors and local suppliers," he said.

“Ballymena and North Antrim are still feeling from a number of major blows in the manufacturing industry over recent years, and the crisis at Wrightbus, plus the ongoing uncertainty over Brexit, will only add to the pressure that has been created in the local economy and community."

Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann said efforts must now concentrate on coming to an arrangement with potential buyers.

“Ballymena and its people have had to deal with the loss of Michelin, Gallahers and other manufacturing operations. It has been blow after blow and there needs to be a co-ordinated response. Words of sympathy won't cut it," he said.

“All efforts must now be made to ensure that a buyer and future is found for a highly skilled workforce. There is still an opportunity here that must be seized, but time is short. All efforts must be concentrated on coming to an arrangement with potential buyers.”

DUP MLA Mervyn Storey said: "Clearly questions has to be asked as to how the company has arrived at this sad situation, however today should be about the staff and all effected.

"I hope that a resolution can be quickly found, so there is a future for a company that has played such an important part in so many peoples lives for many years."

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