The hopes of Ballymena JTI workers were dashed this afternoon as the Geneva-based top tier management of the tobacco giants rejected a union plan which aimed to save around 500 jobs.
Workers at the Lisnafillan plant, which has employed thousands of local people since 1941, had pinned their last hopes on a scheme which would have meant the Ballymena factory being transformed into a ‘sector of excellence’.
Speaking outside JTI factory in Ballymena today Ian Paisley MP said: “It is extremely disappointing that the factory closure has now been confirmed. Since the initial announcement of the consultation before Christmas I have continued to lobby the UK government to reconsider the introduction of plain-packaging and delay the Tobacco Products Directive in light of the lack of evidence to suggest their introduction would have any positive impact on smoking statistics within the United Kingdom whilst the economic impact in Ballymena would be devastating.
“I have directly lobbied the Prime Minister, Secretary of State and the Business Innovation and Skills department. However the die has been cast and the tentacles of european bureaucracy have reached in and stripped this factory bare!
“This is one of the biggest single job losses in Northern Ireland since the Harland and Wolff shipyard redundancies.
“With the consultation period now complete and the factory closure confirmed, it is the responsibility of the Departments of Enterprise, Trade and Investment and the Department of Employment and Learning to look to re-skill these exceptionally experienced and able staff in order for them to find new employment before the factory finally closes early in 2017. I know that the Departments have already demonstrated a commitment towards this.
“The Prime Minister this week stated that the UK is to become the factory of Europe. The challenge is now before him to include Northern Ireland in that vision and deliver new jobs to this region.”
JTI announced it was to shut the factory the loss of more than 800 jobs in October of last year.
Redundancies are due to begin in May 2016.
Gallaher, which made Silk Cut and Benson & Hedges cigarettes, was taken over by Japanese firm JTI in 2007. In October, the firm said it was restructuring its manufacturing facilities “as a result of significant and sustained changes impacting its global business”.
“The challenging economic environment, excise tax pressure coupled with illegal trade has triggered industry volume contraction in a number of key European countries,” it said.
The company said these problems had been compounded by European Union cigarette packaging legislation.