As Wrightbus announces redundancies Union says: ‘Every job lost is a heavy blow’

Wrightbus is cutting up to 125 staff as a response to the economic slowdown.

It will make up to 35 permanent employees redundant as well as reducing agency staff by up to 90 workers “over a phased period”.

The firm’s owners say it will still have 10 times the workforce it had when they bought it out of administration last year.

Wrightbus’ chief executive said the redundancies “are a necessary measure”.

“When we saved Wrightbus there were only about 50 employees, and since then we have grown the workforce to 700,” said chief executive Buta Atwal.

“The decision has been taken to trim the workforce to the size we believe we will need to see us through to the end of the year.

“The redundancies are a necessary measure given the economic slowdown as a result of the current coronavirus crisis.”

Mr Atwal said a large part of the workforce had been furloughed but around 100 engineers, designers and sales staff had continued working through the crisis.

He added that the aim was still to have around 1,000 people working the firm by the end of 2021 and “we hope to be in a position to re-hire some of those who have been made redundant,” the BBC reports.

Responding to the announcement, the North Antrim MP Ian Paisley called on the government to bring forward the hydrogen bus strategy for the UK.

“It is very disappointing that Wrightbus have been forced to announce redundancies,” said Mr Paisley.

“Since the company was taken over the company has been growing the workforce steadily, but I share the company’s hope that their long-term vision can still be achieved.

“There are obvious fears about the longer-term impact of the Covid-19 outbreak on the wider Northern Ireland economy and that such redundancies will escalate in the future.”

Mr Paisley added that bringing forward the “much-needed hydrogen bus strategy” would be “transformative” for the industry and also help in the achievement of environmental goals.

Unite the Union called on new Wrightbus owners to furlough workers under Coronavirus Jobs Retention Scheme

George Brash, Unite Regional Officer called on Wrightbus management to mitigate its plans for a phased redundancy among its Ballymena workforce.

“Unite has been engaging regularly with the new owners of Wrightbus with a view to securing the maximal investment and employment at the factory’s Ballymena site. Today’s announcement by management is therefore profoundly regrettable.

“Management plans to make redundant 35 employees and to bring forward a phased-process of reducing agency staffing affecting up to 90 workers. Every job lost is a heavy blow for the individual concerned, their household, the wider community and economy – especially in the face of the current Covid-19 pandemic.

“Ahead of this announcement being made, I spoke to senior management to call on them to utilise the Coronavirus Jobs Retention Scheme to protect jobs and retain skilled workers; the prospect of workers being thrown onto the dole queues at this time is unacceptable.

“Management confirmed they will be proceeding to a 30-day consultative period on their proposals but that they will consider furlough as an option. They sought to reassure us of their ambitions for Wrightbus in Ballymena and its centrality to their plans.

“Instead of reducing employment, we need to ramp up production of hydrogen-buses to curb greenhouse gas emissions and transition to a more environmentally-sustainable economy. The Wrightbus workforce is perfectly positioned to make a vital contribution to that; they have the skills to build the buses at the heart of any future green transport policy.

“The request for furlough will be top of Unite’s agenda in the consultation process. Having played a lead role in securing the transfer of Wrightbus, which faced liquidation, to the Bamford group we are determined to bring as many jobs as possible to Ballymena as a result”, Mr Brash concluded.

North Antrim TUV MLA Jim Allister said: “The loss of up to 125 jobs at Wrightbus so soon after the euphoria of the Bamford takeover is a hard blow for the workforce and district.

“The key task now is to ensure this is the last we hear of job losses at Wrightbus. That can be achieved by government and all other interests getting behind the hydrogen bus revolution that Wrightbus is leading.

“In the green energy alternatives Wrightbus producing hydrogen fuelled buses is the far better option for Northern Ireland, and indeed the whole U.K., than preference to battery charged buses whose technology mostly comes from China. Some recent promotion of such battery driven buses by the Department of Transport in London is not helpful.

“Wrightbus will ultimately be able to produce both but the its head start in hydrogen must not be wasted.

“Indeed, what is now required is a concerted effort by Stormont, private enterprise and the local council to create a hydrogen hub in Ballymena, which is something I will be asking to discuss with the Economy Minister in the near future.“

TUV council leader, Cllr Timothy Gaston, added: “Council must, and I believe will, join in any concerted effort to ensure the future of Wrightbus. Creating a hydrogen hub in Ballymena is, I believe, the way to go and therefore I will be trying with colleagues to energise this drive.”

North Antrim Sinn Fein MLA Philip McGuigan said: “News that up to 125 workers at Wrightbus in Ballymena will be made redundant is a huge blow and my thoughts are with the workers and their families at this time.

“This will have a major impact the local economy in Ballymena and north Antrim at a time when many are already under great financial strain as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I have spoken to management at Wrightbus and urged them to engage with trade unions and ensure the workers are kept up to date with any developments.

“Workers who are affected should be offered retraining or upskilling opportunities and support to find alternative employment.”


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