Belfast Telegraph

Wrightbus workers union to hold rallies as fight continues to save livelihoods

Workers queue outside one of the firm’s factories for help with gaining further employment
Workers queue outside one of the firm’s factories for help with gaining further employment
Lauren Harte

By Lauren Harte

Former Wrightbus workers will take part in two major rallies in Ballymena this week, demanding action to save their jobs.

It comes as Secretary of State Julian Smith pledged to do all he can to support any potential purchasers of the stricken Ballymena bus-builder.

The Unite union has scheduled a rally for the workforce and their families at the Ballymena showgrounds tomorrow at 4pm while at noon on Friday a 'Save Wrightbus Jobs & Skills' march will leave Unite's Ballymena offices and proceed to the Wrightbus gates where a second rally will be held.

Unite regional officer for Wrightbus, George Brash, said workers will be joined by other trade unionists including those at Harland and Wolff. He said: "Our members will accept nothing less than the action needed to reopen the doors and let them get back to work. This is a fight not just for the 1,200 workers facing redundancy but for the future of Ballymena. It is not a fight we can afford to lose."

The union has also asked the Wright family "to do the right thing" and hand back the land on which the factory is built to the people of Ballymena to safeguard jobs and skills into the future.

"Such a move offers the best hope to safeguard the workforce jobs and skills and a future for this town," Mr Brash added.

About 1,200 people lost their jobs when Wrightbus was placed into administration last Wednesday. The company had suffered cash flow problems and had sought investment or a new owner.

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On Sunday hundreds of people took part in a protest outside Green Pastures church in Ballymena, which received millions of pounds in donations from Wrightbus.

Fiona Knowles, the granddaughter of founder Sir William Wright, lost her job at Wrightbus over a year ago and joined the protesters on Sunday. She told the BBC: "I think that it was very poorly run, we made a lot of losses on a lot of stupid money (that) was wasted that could have been invested properly.

"My granda sacrificed and he always invested back into that business and I don't think that was there in later years."

Speaking in the House of Commons yesterday as hundreds of Wrightbus workers attended a redundancy clinic in Ballymena, the Secretary of State told MPs he was "deeply disappointed" that firm had entered administration, saying it was "an extremely difficult situation for all those who have lost their jobs and their families".

Julian Smith said: "Support will be provided to those affected, and via the NI Civil Service, and I will continue to do everything I can, as I have been doing over this weekend and in the weeks before, to work with Invest NI and government colleagues to support any potential purchaser of the business or assets who may be identified during the process of administration."

Mr Smith also confirmed that Deloitte, the firm's administrator, has taken steps to bring six Wrightbus workers home from its Malaysia facility.

North Antrim MP, the DUP's Ian Paisley, told Mr Smith that bus buyers need to be encouraged with "economic assistance" to buy British. Mr Paisley pushed for the commitment after seeking assurances that potential investors in Wrightbus know what UK Government support looks like, in terms of research and development, soft loans or grants.

Mr Smith said the Government is making any potential Wrightbus bidders aware of what support could be available, adding: "This is a commercial process.

"It's been managed by an administrator and many of the actions are required to take place at a devolved level.

"But we will continue, and I do continue, to speak actively to all stakeholders in this issue and I am conducting meetings in the course of this week."

Mr Smith said Chancellor Sajid Javid has committed £220m to buses in Great Britain, with additional money for Northern Ireland out of that pot, while a bus strategy is being developed.

Belfast Telegraph