A DEADLINE of 10am on Thursday has been set for a deal to save Wrightbus, a Union chief said on Wednesday night.
With the clock ticking, Unite the Union said increasing numbers of workers now face the prospect of going to food banks after two weeks without work.
Unite Regional Officer for Wrightbus, George Brash, urged Jeff Wright to urgently resolve the issue of land ownership currently standing in the way of a sale of Wrightbus by the administrator
Mr Brash said: “We understand that the deadline to resolve the current impasse over the site ownership at Wrightbus is now set for 10am tomorrow morning.
“The issue of the land is now the only barrier to a sale that will safeguard the jobs and livelihoods of this workforce.
“But this is not just about the jobs of the workers, the wages they bring home to their families sustains thousands of jobs elsewhere in Ballymena and further afield.
“This is a fight to save the wider Ballymena economy which has withstood the impact of the loss of Patton group, JTI-Gallaher, Michelin and other companies in recent years. We can’t afford to see these jobs go.
“Today increasing numbers of workers are coming up to me to say that they are now considering going to a food bank to get by and secure the needs of their families.
“One worker with two young children and a heavy mortgage was heading to a job fair and then trying to get opening times for food banks in the area having received only £20 in JSA over the past two weeks.
“Our younger members in particular are distraught, they have worked extremely hard through a coach-building apprenticeship and now they say they have nowhere to go. That’s the real human cost of closure. We can’t just sit back and watch this happen.
“This is the eleventh hour in the effort to save these jobs. Unite is calling on Jeff Wright to do the right thing – by this workforce, by their families, and by this town.
“We need him to hand over the land, save their livelihoods and offer hope for so many in the mouth of Christmas. There’s still time to deliver a hopeful future but we need him to act now,” Mr Brash said.
The Galgorm business was placed into administration last month and is up for sale.
The industrialist Jo Bamford, son of JCB chairman Lord Bamford, is understood to have made a bid for the company.
However, the ownership of the Wrightbus factory remains a barrier to an overall resolution, the BBC reports.
The premises are owned separately from the manufacturing business and held in a company called Whirlwind Property Two, which is not part of the Wrights group and is therefore not under the control of the administrator.
The property company is controlled by Jeff Wright, the former owner of Wrightbus.
North Antrim MP Ian Paisley urged Mr Wright to make a deal to sell the factory.
Mr Paisley said Mr Bamford was not going to invest tens of millions of pounds if he did not control the asset.
The Unite union has said the livelihoods of 1,200 workers hang in the balance.
Unite said earlier it wanted to meet Mr Wright in an attempt to help strike a deal.
“The only issue outstanding now is that of the land ownership associated with the factory site,” said George Brash.
“Twelve hundred workers’ livelihoods, the living conditions of their families and the entire local economy now hang in the balance.
“We understand that we are in a situation where if the issue of the land is not resolved in the next 24 to 48 hours, then the prospect of safeguarding their future will disappear.”
Wrightbus went into administration last month after a period of financial difficulties.
Pre-administration attempts to sell the business were also complicated by the factory ownership issue.
The Wright family said it had not acted unreasonably during that sales process.
On Wednesday afternoon, TUV leader and North Antrim MLA Jim Allister said: “With things potentially moving towards a deal which will restore manufacturing at Wrightbus, it is imperative that the maximum number of jobs are secured.
“Towards this end it is essential that all parties strive to overcome any outstanding hurdles, be it the land or otherwise.
“The saving of the factory must not be lost over a squabble about the land. So, my message to all is ‘get it done.’”
Sinn Féin North Antrim MLA Phillip McGuigan said: “The people of north Antrim were dealt a devastating blow last month when it was announced that Wrightbus had gone into administration.
“There is now a potential buyer for the business which could save hundreds of jobs but once again the ownership of the Wrightbus site has become an issue in the negotiations.
“Sinn Féin would appeal that the issue around the ownership of the site be resolved to enable the buyout to happen and to safeguard the livelihoods of as many workers as possible.”