1. ITV Report

Wrightbus announces 125 job losses - including 35 redundancies - at Ballymena site

Wrightbus factory in Ballymena. Credit: UTV

Bus manufacturer Wrightbus has announced 125 job losses - including 35 redundancies - in a move the company says is 'vital to secure a stronger future'.

90 agency staff are to be released on a phased basis.

Bosses say the move is in response to economic slow down from the coronavirus pandemic.

Chief Executive Buta Atwal said the decision had been 'tough' but the job losses would not alter the long-term vision of prosperity for the company.

Mr Atwal and owner Jo Bamford took over Wrightbus last year after saving it from the brink of collapse.

Mr Atwal says at the time of the takeover, 50 staff were employed which they then were able to increase to 700.

He added the decision needed to be taken to see the company through to the end of the year.

...we hope to be in a position to re-hire some of those who have been made redundant.

– Buta Atwal, Wrightbus Chief Executive

"Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, while we furloughed a large section of the workforce, we also kept about 100 engineers, designers and sales staff working to make sure we can take future orders of buses and work on long-term projects, which will provide security and stability for Wrightbus in the coming years," said Mr Atwal.

He added that the Wrightbus factory has created the world’s first hydrogen-electric double-decker bus, which emits only water with orders expected to come in within the coming years.

There are already strong sales for the delivery of buses in London and Aberdeen this year, according to the Chief Executive.

Mr Atwal said: "We see the future in zero-emission hydrogen and battery-electric transport and have positioned the business accordingly. Our vision is to have 1,000 people working for us by the end of 2021 and we hope to be in a position to re-hire some of those who have been made redundant.

Unite the Union said the plans were 'regrettable'.

The union's Regional Officer, George Brash said: "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.

Workers outside the factory last year during negotitations. Credit: Pacemaker

He added Unite will press for the company to avail of the current furlough scheme during the a 30-day consultation period.

“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," he said.

"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."

North Antrim MP, Ian Paisley said the news was 'disappointing' and urged the Government to 'take action'.

"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," he said.

"Specifically within bus manufacturing there is action the Government can take to assist. If they brought forward the much-needed hydrogen bus strategy for the UK it could be transformative for the wider transport sector."

Consultation with affected workers is to begin on Monday.

The company says it will support those who have been made redundant, virtually if necessary due to current government guidelines.