Belfast Telegraph

Wrightbus: Employees elated... but until sale confirmed it's still only half-time

David Williamson
David Williamson
Stephen McMaster
Wesley Anderson
Ralph Hewitt

by Ralph Hewitt

The Champagne was in full flow outside the gates of Wrightbus yesterday morning as the news broke that a deal had been reached between site owner Jeff Wright and industrialist Jo Bamford.

After spending almost three weeks standing at the roadside, come rain or shine, emotional workers embraced each other and rang their loved ones after hearing the development — their jobs, or at least some, had been saved.

In a generous show of solidarity, former Wrightbus employee Robert Russell delivered a box of sausage baps for his fellow workers just hours before he was due to get married.

Speaking yesterday, Andrew French, who spent 18 years with Wrightbus, said the sale was a huge relief to his family as his father and sister also worked for the company but he was still cautious as their former jobs are not yet secure.

“The news is just great for me and my father, who has worked for them for 43 years, and my sister, who was working for them for six or seven years,” he beamed.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a family business but it’s like a family business because we’re all in it.

“It has taken a great pressure off us and even if we don’t get our jobs back, it’s about 600 or 700 jobs less to fight for.”

David Williamson said the sale in principle was a huge weight off his shoulders as he was worried that he wouldn’t have been able to provide for his wife and three children.

“It wasn’t just a worry for my family but for the local community and the town,” added Mr Williamson, who has worked for Wrightbus for 18 years.

Thanking the people of Ballymena for sticking with the workers, Stephen McMaster, a Wrightbus veteran of 42 years, believed that their home could have turned into a “ghost town” if there wasn’t a united effort to save the 1,200 jobs.

Indeed, many businesses and locals provided hot food during  the protest.

He also thanked Mr Bamford for his dedication in seeing the deal go through, Unite the Union and his fellow colleagues and their families. Meanwhile, Wesley Anderson described how lost he has been without the daily routine of getting out of bed and going to work at Wrightbus — something he had been doing since 1998.

“Hopefully the majority get back in again because we work really well together,” he said.

John Watson explained that while the last few weeks had been stressful for many workers, he had saved over the last two years as he foresaw the company’s closure.

Looking towards the future, Mr Watson, who spent 16 years with Wrightbus, hopes to see the plans the new owner has in store.

Robert Thompson was delighted the sale had been agreed after six years with the company but was cautious about his own future as he understood he may not be returning to work straight away.

“We can get people back in, but we’re all under the understanding that it’s not going to be 1,200 men straight in the door, but hopefully we can get as many people in as possible in the run up to Christmas,” he said.

Former Wrightbus employee of nine years Stephen Russell was pleased to see that jobs had been saved.

“It was an unbelievably stressful couple of weeks and everyone was in the same boat,” he said. “We hadn’t been getting much sleep lately to tell you the truth.

“Hopefully, this will sort everything out, even if it does take two or three weeks. At least we know that we will hopefully have our jobs back.”

Finally, Gareth Roulton, a Wrightbus stalwart of 30 years, compared the sale to “half-time at a football match” as the administrators still need to confirm the deal has been agreed, but stressed that he was over the moon for his fellow workers.

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