Ballymena-based Wrights Group, one of Northern Ireland’s biggest exporters, has told its workforce that it plans to to axe 95 jobs because of a downturn in orders.
Union leaders said staff had no inkling when they turned up for work on Monday that their jobs could be under threat at the company, which has a total workforce of about 1,500.
George Brash, regional officer with trade union Unite, said Wrightbus, which is privately owned, is one of the last remaining major employers in an area devastated by thousands of job cuts in recent years – Michelin and JTI Gallaher both closed their Co Antrim plants.
Last week the area was also hit by a further jobs blow following the collapse of a top environmental company, Williams Industrial Services Limited and the decision by the oilfield service group Schlumberger to also close its plant in Co Antrim.
Mr Brash said the union believed the proposed redundancies at Wrightbus were linked to the “loss of sales to Transport for London and the protracted delay in new orders coming in from Translink” – the organisation which oversees public transport in the North.
Wrightbus had previously supplied Routemaster double-decker buses, known as Boris buses, to Transport for London but current London mayor Sadiq Khan had discontinued the contract.
Mr Brash said: “Unite has lobbied directly the mayor of London’s office, making the case to support UK workers. The fact that the contract for the purchase of London Transport buses has been transferred to China and Egypt is an inexcusable betrayal of Northern Ireland workers and represents a false economy to the UK taxpayer overall.
"We are also concerned by reports that the delay in sales under the Translink contract may be due to the absence of an accountable minister. Wrightbus has a five-year contract to supply Translink but unfortunately authorisation for the new environmentally-friendly hybrid buses has not been forthcoming because it apparently needs ministerial sign-off."