Around 150 staff who were temporarily laid off at sportswear firm O'Neills are set to be called back to work to manufacture scrubs for the health service.
The Strabane-based business, which had suspended all operations last Thursday due to loss of trade amid the coronavirus outbreak, announced the new deal yesterday.
Kieran Kennedy, managing director of O’Neills, said that he had secured an order for 55,000 maroon scrubs and was also in talks to produce up to one million face masks.
He said he hopes to be able to produce 10,000 sets of scrubs per week and will be calling around 150 staff back to work to begin with.
The firm had temporarily laid off up to 750 staff when operations ceased last week, with a re-opening not thought possible until at least May 5.
Mr Kennedy said: “O’Neills have been asked to step in to help and with over 100 years’ expertise in the manufacturing industry and our highly skilled local workforce available to respond to the emergency crisis, we are ready and willing to utilise our well established production lines to expedite this important requirement as a matter of urgency.”
Mr Kennedy stressed that the health and safety of the O’Neills employees and their families would continue to be the number one priority.
He said that the company would be “rigorously adhering” to all the essential guidance and protocols issued by the Government, Public Health Agency and World Health Organisation to keep everyone safe from Covid-19.
“We have literally been part of the fabric of local communities the length and breadth of Ireland for the past 102 years and as a company we can think of no better way to play our part in helping to save lives during the current national emergency,” he said. “Now is the time for everyone to pull together as part of the huge collaborative effort required to help ensure our dedicated NHS staff have the necessary equipment to combat the spread of this deadly pandemic, not just within our own country but across the globe.”
The process of preparing the fabric begun yesterday at the firm’s site in Dublin, while its facilities in Strabane and Londonderry will also be used to complete the order.
Cutting and sewing will commence in the coming days to complete the first order secured for 5,000 scrubs for primary care healthcare staff.
The Department of Health said it anticipated strong interest from local industry in helping to meet demand for Protective Personal Equipment (PPE) to keep frontline health workers safe.
“We are doing all we can to provide necessary and appropriate PPE to colleagues in all health and care sectors,” a spokesperson added.
“There have been major efforts over recent days to distribute urgently required items such as facemasks, faceshields and visors.”