Belfast Telegraph

Wrightbus: ‘Today has given me hope’... workers buoyed by jobs fair

Timmy Reid and his daughter Halle
Timmy Reid and his daughter Halle
William Neill
Brett Campbell

By Brett Campbell

A father and son who are among the 1,200 Wrightbus workers looking for a new employer said they left a jobs fair with the same fears they had going in.

Francis and David Millar, aged 55 and 17, were among hundreds of redundant workers who attended the Braid Centre in Ballymena yesterday.

David started working as an apprentice electrical engineer at the firm last September and now faces the prospect of being kicked off his Northern Regional College course.

"I need to find a placement within four weeks," he explained.

"There seems to be a couple of openings, but even if I do get something I'm not sure it will be sorted within a month."

Both men praised Mid and East Antrim Council which rallied more than 80 employers with 1,900 vacancies to the jobs fair. Over 300 jobseekers arrived at the venue within 30 minutes of the doors opening - with some companies interviewing applicants on the spot.

David's dad, who worked as a production operator at the failed firm for eight years, still left with concerns.

"He doesn't drive - so he's limited as to where he can accept work," Mr Millar said.

The married father-of-four and former joiner is also worried about his own career prospects, but expressed relief that he made his final mortgage payment just a few months ago.

"I left the construction industry when it went bad, but I'll probably try and move back into it now, but who knows what will happen.

"My wife works part-time and we've no mortgage payments now."

Ex-production manager William Neill (46) left feeling optimistic.

"There are plenty of jobs here," he said.

"I might not get something doing exactly what I was doing or with the same salary, I'll just have to take what's going."

One elderly man who was at the job fair to support his son was less optimistic.

"My son has five kids, including a newborn who just arrived three weeks ago," he said.

"His wife has just started maternity leave."

The pensioner said his son, who has worked at the firm for 31 years, is trying to remain hopeful.

"He started when he was 15 and just out of school," he added.

"It's heartbreaking - I could break down and cry, but what good would that go?

"This is a great response from local employers and hopefully some good comes from it."

One newly unemployed family man who has just paid his mortgage payment for this month admitted he has no idea where the money for next month's payment is coming from as he left with a handful of application forms.

Married father-of-two Timothy Reid (33) was browsing the dozens of employer stands with his one-year-old daughter Halle.

The spray painter has spent six years at Wrightbus, but as some of that time was through an agency he is only entitled to three years redundancy payments.

"I got a contract in October 2015 which means I miss out on an extra year of redundancy by one month."

Mr Reid, whose wife works part-time, is worried about future mortgage payments.

He expressed concern for the mental health of his former colleagues and questioned if special welfare provisions will be put in place for those under pressure.

He also made a desperate plea for potential buyers to look to take a good look at the hundreds of protesters who gathered outside Green Pastures Church on Sunday.

"That's wasn't just a protest, it was a loyal workforce standing in solidarity," he said.

"It was men and women who brought their own tools to finish the job when things became grim inside the company.

"The same respect they show to William Wright is hard to find but it can be earned by a new buyer who treats them right."

Married father-of-two Phil McIlvenna (37) has been with Wrightbus since he left school over 21 years ago.

The coach builder, who started as an apprentice, has spent the last week wondering what he's going to do.

"The longer you sit and dwell on this it gets harder to lift your head but today has given me hope," he said.

"I didn't know there were so many jobs out there and that I can transfer my skills."

Mr McIlvenna praised the Department for Communities and the local council, which has also ensured people have information about CV design and retraining opportunities.

Ashley Henderson (29), who worked in the customer care department until last week, is quietly optimistic about the future.

"We are all devastated - we were like one big family and now we are here competing for the same jobs," she said.

"But going by today there seems to be plenty out there."

However, the newlywed, who recently carried out major renovations on a recently purchased home, is worried about finance commitments.

A council spokesperson welcomed the huge response from dozens of companies including those who were unable to get into the venue and confirmed it is considering hosting a similar event next week.

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