Unite has called on the government to take immediate action and nationalise Wrightbus, the Ballymena-based bus manufacturer which announced today (September 25) that it has entered into administration.
The news means that the 1,300 people employed by Wrightbus across EnDrive, Metallix, Composites sections now face the prospect of immediate redundancy.
The collapse of Wrightbus, which made the new Routemaster buses and is one of the area’s biggest employers, is a major blow to Northern Ireland communities, which have been pummelled by the relatively recent closures of other large manfucturers such as JTI-Gallaher and Michelin. More than 2,500 skilled jobs in Northern Ireland have been lost in the last five years alone.
Wrightbus’ collapse is the second major UK insolvency to be announced this week, following hot on the heels of travel firm Thomas Cook going into compulsory liquidation on Monday (September 23), which stranded thousands of holidaymakers who are now being repatriated by the government.
Wrightbus had recently been experiencing cash flow problems and struggled to find a buyer – a last minute deal to save the company collapsed after Chinese engineering group Weichai and a firm led by JCB heir Jo Bamford pulled out of sales talks last week.
Northern Ireland businessman Darren Donnelly, also a prospective buyer, likewise pulled out of talks only days before.
Despondent Wrightbus workers have expressed anger and disbelief.
“For the last five years, management has told us that they can’t give us a wage rise as they were investing it in the company,” 30-year Wrightbus veteran Norman Stephens told the BBC.
“Who is going to employ a 62-year-old man? I have nothing now. That’s it.”
Unite regional secretary Jackie Pollock said Unite organised a mass meeting with the workforce to decide next steps, and the union would back workers whatever it took.
“They will have the full support of our union in whatever decision they take,” he said.
Pollock then called on the government to take immediate action.
“Prime Minister Boris Johnson has made great play about how he stands strong for British industry,” he said. “He must now intervene to safeguard these workers’ jobs and skills and a future for Ballymena by nationalising this business – there’s no EU state aid rules that could prevent it.
“Ballymena has already lost thousands of decent, union jobs with the closure of JTI-Gallaher and Michelin in recent year, and most recently 86 jobs at Blackbourne – we face the prospect of further devastation should this closure be allowed to proceed,” he added.
“Wrightbus is the last UK company capable of producing double-decker buses – indeed buses with advanced renewables technology – needed by commuters in Belfast, Dublin and London and vital to any vision of a transition to a sustainable future. We call on Boris Johnson to ‘take back control’ and nationalise to invest in securing UK bus manufacturing capacity.”