Sligo left 'devastated' by medical firm closure


STIEFEL SHUTDOWN:THE ANNOUNCEMENT that Stiefel Laboratories in Sligo is to cease operations within four years with the  loss of 250 jobs  was described yesterday as a “devastating blow” to the county.

Just four months after it was taken over by pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), workers at the plant, some with three decades of service,  were called to an emergency meeting yesterday morning for the announcement.

Managing director Joe Burns, who has been with Stiefel since it opened in Sligo in 1975 with a workforce of just 10, told staff that production will cease by 2013.

He said the planned closure in no way reflects on the performance or commitment of staff at the Sligo site, who had made a significant contribution to the success of Stiefel.

The company,  which manufactures a range of skincare products, has attributed the development to “underutilised capacity” across the entire Stiefel and GSK network.

In a statement yesterday it said that production would continue at the Sligo site until all products are transferred to alternative facilities.While some employees expressed relief yesterday that closure was not imminent, local politicians called for clarity for the workforce, who could be facing the dole queue in anything  from four months to four years’ time.

Staff were told that formal consultations in preparation for the transfers will begin immediately, and that more details will be available by March.

Sligo-Leitrim TD John Perry (FG) said the 2013 deadline was a “decoy”, and that a phased closure over four years does not stack up.

He said he believed the majority of workers would be let go sooner rather than later, but the company chose to “break the ice rather than deliver a knockout blow”.

He said it now appeared, coming so soon after the GSK takeover, that the pharmaceutical giant had bought Stiefel “to take out the opposition – and the Sligo workers are the victims”.

Mr Perry said the number of unemployed in Sligo had shot up by 60 per cent in the last 12 months to just under 5,000.

Describing the news as “a devastating blow” for the area, he added: “With unemployment at 12.5 per cent, it’s the worst possible time for anyone to lose their job.”

Fianna Fáil TD Jimmy Devins also stressed that the Sligo plant was “extremely profitable”.

He said the loss of 250 jobs in Sligo was the equivalent of Dell closing in the mid-west,  given the population of the region.

Minister for Trade, Enterprise and Employment Mary Coughlan expressed  “deep disappointment”  at the announcement. She said she would immediately engage with the IDA and other State agencies including Enterprise Ireland and Fás, and do her utmost for staff who had “a proud record of employment” at the Finisklin Industrial Estate.

Staff, who work three shifts at the plant, were sent home following yesterday’s shock announcement. While some employees said they had been braced for redundancies because of rumours circulating since the takeover, most were stunned at news of a total shutdown.

One man with over 20 years’ service said they had been expecting bad news, “but not this news”. He pointed out that some staff had over 30 years’ service.

“There  are families involved who have  two generations working at Stiefel, so this will be a big blow for them,” said one woman.

“Today was a beautiful morning in Sligo, but looking out the window things look different when you know you won’t have a job for much longer,” said one employee. “A lot of people have worries about mortgages and families.”

Some workers said it was “a sign of the times”.