Belfast Telegraph

Wrightbus staff vent anger as company takeover delayed

Workers outside the gates of Wrightbus in Ballymena
Workers outside the gates of Wrightbus in Ballymena
Dean Rutherford
Gareth Roulton
Gary Girvan
Ralph Hewitt

By Ralph Hewitt

There was anger and frustration outside Wrightbus yesterday evening as workers hoping for an announcement that a deal had been struck to save their jobs were told that the deadline had been pushed back until today.

Over 100 people who were left unemployed two weeks ago were undeterred by the rain as they marched in unison from the roadside to the gates of Wrightbus with a sign that read, 'Do what's right, hand back the site - Save our jobs', after the new 10am deadline was announced.

Former employee Dean Rutherford said he has major fears that a deal cannot be reached due to a reported rental price of £1m a year sought by Jeff Wright, the controller of the land on which the bus manufacturer is situated.

Mr Rutherford is hoping that his four young children - with another due next month - can still have a happy Christmas if Jo Bamford, whose family owns JCB, and Mr Wright can agree a sale that would save over 1,000 jobs.

"I'm not going to be entitled to paternity leave under new employment and I'll probably miss out on holiday pay so it's going to be a bleak Christmas in my house," he said outside the Wrightbus gates.

"Why didn't the jobs get saved on Monday? I hope the sale gets sorted - but if not then it's going to be a bad Christmas.

"There was a glimmer of hope this morning when I saw on the news that Jo Bamford was in the running for it, but now it's been put back because of land once again. It has been the issue since this all started. Everything else is done and dusted bar the land. It's hard to know what to think about it because it's been the main issue since day one."

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Worker Mark Walford described the new deadline as "ridiculous" and called on those involved in the sale to "just get it done".

Meanwhile, Gary Girvan added that while his children are now grown up, he sympathised with his fellow workers who had young families to provide for.

"The whole thing is totally ridiculous," he said. "I'm a bit better off than all of those young lads who are just starting off their lives and their family lives. It's totally scandalous.

"The deal has been done apparently and we're just trying to get over the last ramp. It's totally ridiculous."

Gareth Roulton, who was employed by Wrightbus just a week shy of 30 years before its collapse, said that everyone is in "limbo" until they know whether or not the company will be sold.

Those who lost their jobs were due to receive their pay this morning.

"People have to pay their mortgages, rates or whatever else," he said.

"Some people have maybe got jobs elsewhere and others haven't. A lot of people here haven't been lucky enough to get a job elsewhere."

Following the protest and march to the gates of Wrightbus, Susan Fitzgerald from union Unite told those assembled that the sale is no longer about the employees and their families but the whole town of Ballymena.

"I think we need to have a far reaching discussion that if a deal is not reached tomorrow then what is the plan?" she said.

"I think, in our opinion, everything should be on the table now and that we discuss and consider every available option, but we do it as a united workforce and a united community.

"We're fighting for this to be covered in the media because of the stuff coming out of Westminster, but we need to do whatever it takes to keep the story in the news because otherwise it will be forgotten, Ballymena will be forgotten and this shameful situation will be forgotten."

Belfast Telegraph