There were jubilant scenes in the Northern Irish town of Ballymena today (October 11) after an 11th hour deal was reached to save hundreds of Wrightbus jobs.
One Wrightbus worker (pictured centre), who got married today, turned up at the factory gates this morning before his wedding to stand in solidarity with his colleagues, who have been holding daily protests outside the site.
After news of the deal broke, the bride and groom came past the factory “in the fancy wedding car roaring out the window”, said Unite regional coordinating officer Susan Fitzgerald.
The deal with Jo Bamford, part of the industrial family which owns JCB, only came about after the workforce mobilised to save Wrightbus by pressuring former owner Jeff Wright to hand the land the factory is situated on back to the community.
Wrightbus went into administration in late September due to cash flow problems and a prospective buyer pulling out, putting 1,300 jobs at risk.
Although there were a number of potential bidders for the bus manufacturing business, negotiations stalled because of Wright’s demands over the land, which has now been handed to the local council following intensive campaigning from Unite.
Bamford said today that he was “delighted to announce that I have agreed terms on a deal in principle with the Wright family for the Wrightbus factory and land”.
Unite regional officer for Wrightbus George Brash welcomed the news.
“The news of this sale was greeted with a wave of celebration and relief by the workers who had, once again, gathered at the factory gates. This result means everything to the workforce, their families, and the wider Ballymena community,” Brash said.
“While it is right to celebrate this huge result and the fact that Jeff Wright has acceded to the union’s demands and handed the land back to the council, much remains to be resolved and the hard work will continue. We need to maximise the number of jobs safeguarded as well as seek guarantees in regard to pay and workplace terms and conditions.”
Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner congratulated the Wrightbus workers on their efforts to save the firm and paid tribute to union reps involved with the campaign.
“Our colleagues in Ireland, as well as colleagues in London, have worked tirelessly to make sure the deal was done, that the threat to 1,200 workers was eliminated and that their families and communities were supported,” Turner said.
“That campaign has been successful and the plant will reopen and start producing world class busses. It’s brilliant news.”