Union response to factory closure confirmation

JTI (Gallaher).
JTI (Gallaher).

Responding to the announcement that JTI had rejected a joint union-management bid to save jobs at its Lisnafillan factory, Unite’s Regional Secretary, Jimmy Kelly, today (Wednesday) said the Union will now focus on securing compensation for their members at the plant.

He stated: “Our proposal was a highly developed, strong and viable proposal to safeguard employment at Lisnafillan. This counter-proposal would have seen more than 500 jobs saved by transforming the factory into a ‘Centre of Excellence’ for Pouch Tobacco and Cigar manufacture.

“It was overwhelmingly endorsed by our members who agreed to a range of cost savings impacting their terms and conditions in order to save employment at the site. The proposal had been backed by politicians across the board including by the First Minister, Peter Robinson.

“JTI’s rejected our counter-proposal as they have a strategic long-term goal of shifting employment from Western to Eastern Europe,” he claimed.

“This decision is an extreme case of ‘social dumping’ where employers seek to minimise costs through chasing lower cost alternatives. The workforce at Lisnafillan is highly skilled, experienced and motivated - this is the wrong decision,” said Mr Kelly.

He continued: “The choice to close JTI’s plant at Ballymena but leave production in Trier, Germany, reflects the fact that social protections for workers in Northern Ireland, and the UK as a whole, are substantially weaker than in Germany. It boils down to the fact that it is much cheaper for the company to make a UK worker redundant than a German one,” he claimed.

Mr Kelly continued: “Unite is calling for immediate action by our political leaders to put in place increased protections for our workers – Germany is the world leader in advanced manufacture – we can learn a lot from how they promote manufacturing through a combination of strategic support and labour protections – not corporate tax giveaways. JTI’s operation in Lisnafillan was highly profitable – this decision will increase the corporation’s profits by less than 1% overall. If JTI can pursue social dumping in this way, it is clear that any NI-based manufacturer can do so in the future.

“Following on from our disappointment with this decision, Unite will now focus on securing compensation for our members at Lisnafillan”, Mr Kelly concluded.