1,000 job losses at Ballymena tobacco factory

Japan Tobacco plans to move all operations to Poland and Romania

Cigarette maker JTI Gallaher is to shut its factory in County Antrim with the loss of almost 1,000 jobs. Photograph: Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press

Cigarette maker JTI Gallaher is to shut its factory in County Antrim with the loss of almost 1,000 jobs. Photograph: Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press

 
Close to 1,000 jobs will be lost with the expected closure of one of Northern Ireland’s major private sector employers.

Japan Tobacco International (JTI) told staff at its Lisnafillan plant near Ballymena yesterday that it plans to move almost all European tobacco operations to Poland and Romania as part of a restructuring of its European operations.

That would mean closure for the Gallahers plant, along with other plants in Germany and Belgium. JTI took over the Ballymena plant when it acquired Gallahers in 2007.

Although not confirmed, pending a period of consultation, the news overshadowed announcements of new jobs at two US companies.

American software engineering company Rapid7 said it plans to establish a new operation in Northern Ireland and create 75 jobs. Meanwhile, technology company Citrix said it will increase its Dublin workforce by 50 by the end of 2014, bringing its total Irish workforce to 265 people.

JTI said its the restructuring of its manufacturing facilities was necessary because of “significant and sustained changes impacting its global business”. In a statement the company said: “JTI will undertake appropriate consultations on proposals to change its product sourcing, which could lead to the closure of some manufacturing sites.

“JTI’s facilities in Lisnafillan (Northern Ireland) and Wervik (Belgium) would cease to operate, with production moving to other facilities, potentially in Poland and Romania. Other tobacco product manufacturing in Trier (Germany) would also be relocated, with the exception of Ploom2-related production.”

Gallaher makes Silk Cut and Benson & Hedges. The original Gallaher business was founded by Derry man Thomas Gallaher in 1857 .

North Antrim MP Ian Paisley said JTI’s decision to put its workers on a 90 day redundancy notice was devastating news. He said it signalled that the “Gallagher era is coming to an end”.

Mr Paisley said: “Today my heart goes out to these people, many of whom are personal friends, who have been effectively told that the Gallaher era is coming to an end. From May 2016, the first redundancies will commence and the key will be turned for the last time in the factory a year later. This is devastating news.”

No firm decisions

A spokesman for JTI stressed that “no firm decisions” had been taken at this time and that it was entering into a consultation period with employees and trade unions.

“We are sensitive to the impact that any decision will have on our phenomenal workforce in Lisnafillan and the local community,” the spokesperson added.

The Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA) chief executive Glyn Roberts said: “Gallahers generated £60million of wages into the local economy which will be a big loss in spending for local retailers and those businesses who provided goods and services to the company throughout the north Antrim area”

Earlier, Rapid7, which specialises in security software and services, siad it intended to establish a development centre in the North which will design, build, test and release new software and cloud-based services.

Chief executive Corey Thomas said support offered by Invest NI and the availability of high quality technical staff sold Belfast as an investment location to his company.

“The Belfast centre will help us to scale up our operations and address a wider customer base in the US, Europe and Asia,” Mr Thomas added.

In Dublin, Citrix said the planned expansion is being driven by the momentum behind its business in Ireland.

Country manager Grace O’Rourke Veitch said: “The pool of highly skilled workers in the country has given us the confidence to continue to expand over the next four years.”