Belfast Telegraph

JTI Gallagher closure: Union proposal to save 500 jobs at Ballymena cigarette factory is rejected

By Joanne Sweeney

Hope to save 500 jobs at JTI Gallagher cigarette factory have died today after a desperate last bid attempt by unions.

The well-known company is to continue with its consultation to close the Ballymena plant by early 2017 as "the most viable option" in the long-term.

Trade union officials are angry that management have rejected a joint union proposal to save jobs by moving to manufacture of pouch tobacco and cigars at the Lisnafillan site.

JTI spokesman Paul Williams said in a statement: "We take our responsibilities seriously and we will ensure that during the next phase of the consultation process, our employees will be supported and treated fairly.

"We recognise the effect that this announcement could have and we will work together with local leaders and politicians to address the needs of the community.

“The challenging economic conditions and declining sales, coupled with greater regulatory and tax pressures, remain the catalyst for our proposal,” he added.

More than 800 employees will be affected by the plant closure. Unions had hoped to save the larger share of the jobs by becoming a 'centre of excellence' for the production of pouch tobacco and cigars.

A angry statement from Unite accused JTI Gallagher of  "social dumping" as it proceeded with the closure.

Regional secretary Jimmy Kelly said that the decision to close the Lisnafillan plant was wrong.

The unions' proposal had been strong and had been backed by politicians across the board, including First Minister Peter Robinson, he claimed.

He added: “JTI’s rejected our counter-proposal as they have a strategic long-term goal of shifting employment from western to eastern Europe.

"This decision is an extreme case of ‘social dumping’ where employers seek to minimise costs through chasing lower cost alternatives. The workforce at Lisnafillan is highly skilled, experienced and motivated - this is the wrong decision."

Mr Kelly went on to say that the decision reflected the fact that social protections for workers in Northern Ireland and throughout the UK were "substantially weaker" than in Europe.

While adding that Unite would be working to secure compensation for its Lisnafillan members, it called for political leaders to take immediate action to put increased protections for workers in place.

JTI intends to gradually move production to other facilities in Poland and Romania from later this year.

It says that while it has fought back against plain packaging proposals in the UK and illicit trader, its production of cigarettes at Lisnafillan has declined 27% over the last five years.

Read more:

D-Day looms for bid to save jobs at Ballymena's JTI cigarette plant JTI ponders union move to save 500 jobs at Gallaher's in Ballymena



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