Posted on Tuesday 21 October 2014 by Ulster Business

Ministers try to stop gallahers factory being stubbed out

The Enterprise and Employment ministers have met with the owners of Gallaher’s tobacco plant in Ballymena to try and avoid the complete closure of the factory.

Arlene Foster and Stephen Farry said they would explore every available option to keep the facility open after Japan Tobacco Industries (JTI) announced earlier this month it was planning to move production from the County Antrim town to Poland or Romania.

It employs nearly 900 people at the site who command a total salary bill of £60m, one which works out at an average salary of around £67,000 a year, more than three times the Northern Ireland private sector average.

But JTI blamed the difficult economic environment, high levels of tax excise on tobacco products and new EU regulation which curbed the selling of some of the tobacco packs produced in Ballymena.

It said it planned to close the Ballymena plant in 2016 and the ministers were making use of the long lead time.

"We are in the unique position of having a considerable period of time to explore every available option to maintain some presence at Lisnafillan,” Arlene Foster said. "Together with my officials in Invest NI, I will explore every option available to the company in terms of, for example, support for R&D, to avoid complete closure of the factory.”

"We had a very useful meeting and have identified the issues that would need to be addressed. We understand that the company is undertaking a process of engagement with its employees as part of its overall consultation and we look forward to having further discussions with management early next month."

Stephen Farry said he would help reskill workers if the closure goes ahead.

“The meeting indicated that JTI Gallaher management would commit to working with my Department to explore all options should the consultation result in a factory closure.”

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