Union bids to save JTI jobs

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Proposals for the JTI plant in Ballymena to become a ‘centre of excellence’ for pouch tobacco and cigar manufacture, have been unveiled by the Unite Trades Union.

Following endorsement from the union’s shop-stewards at the facility, the proposal would see JTI-Lisnafillan remain open- retaining approximately 500 of the 876 jobs at the plant.

The latest plan emerged after the Ballymena Times revealed yesterday that workers at the Ballymena plant had been hailed by JTI for their ‘record breaking’ production performance in October - the very month in which the company announced plans to quit Northern Ireland.

Unite Regional Secretary, Jimmy Kelly said: “In the consultation process with JTI Management over their proposal to close the factory at Ballymena, Unite has sought to develop a viable alternative which would see as many jobs as possible retained at Lisnafillan – we are now bringing that to our members at the factory to secure their agreement.

“JTI indicated that closing the plant would result in cost-savings of $89 million a year. Our counter-proposal would realise cost-savings of $60 million through the loss of jobs for cigarette manufacture, the adoption of lean production for pouch tobacco and cigar production at Lisnafillan and concessions on the issue of worker terms and conditions.

“Our proposal would save JTI approximately $150 million in capital and other transition costs and would significantly reduce the redundancy costs associated with all 876 workers losing their jobs. We are also seeking to highlight the benefits of remaining in Ballymena – where there is an excellent skills-base, strong staff retention and security around energy supply and other risk factors by comparison to Poland.

“At all times, our union seeks to secure the very best for our members and it is not easy for us to bring forward a proposal which will see significant concessions in terms and conditions as well as large-scale redundancies. However, these must be compared to the total loss of all employment at the plant. Indeed such are the efficiencies that our team has been able to identify that we have been able to protect basic pay, overtime and shift bonus rates entirely while delivering huge cost savings. These operating efficiencies can only be delivered by the skilled and highly experienced workforce at Lisnafillan.

“Over the next two days, Unite will seek agreement from our membership for our proposal. Should we be successful in that, we will need to secure support for our proposal from local and national political leaders before bringing it forward to the highest levels of JTI management.”