The first set of staff at JTI Gallaher, understood to be around two-thirds of the 870 employees, will be leaving the factory in the coming days.
This coincides with the date on which the Tobacco Products Directive (TPD2) will take effect. The remainder of the jobs will finish in May 2017.
In a statement issued to The Ballymena Times, Robert Bisaillon, JTI UK’s Manufacturing VP said: “JTI would like to extend its deepest thanks to all employees that are leaving the company over the coming days. Their dedication over the years and their continued commitment and professionalism since the announcement of the factory closure has been exemplary. We would like to wish them well for the future”.
The factory has been a major employer in Ballymena for decades, but in October, 2014, the firm began consultations on proposals to close its facilities in Northern Ireland and Belgium.
In a statement at the time, JTI Gallaher said it was working in a challenging regulatory and operating environment and that it had “fought very hard” against plain packaging proposals in the UK, the EU’s Tobacco Products Directive 2 (TPD2) as well as the trade in smuggled cigarettes.
Early the next year, JTI Gallaher turned down a trade union proposal aimed at saving some 500 jobs at the factory.
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.