Last day for 500 workers at JTI Gallaher tobacco factory
EMPLOYEES at JTI Gallaher clocked out of the Ballymena cigarette plant for the final time yesterday marking another significant milestone in the closure of one of the Co Antrim town's biggest employers.
Around 500 workers finished yesterday with the remainder of the jobs ending between now and May 2017.
In a statement Robert Bisaillon, JTI UK's manufacturing vice president, said: "JTI would like to extend its deepest thanks to all employees that are leaving the company over the coming days.
"Their dedication over the years and their continued commitment and professionalism since the announcement of the factory closure has been exemplary.
"We would like to wish them well for the future."
One worker leaving the factory yesterday told of his devastation.
"I'm absolutely gutted, but that's the way things go sometimes," he said.
"I worked here 14 years and it's a very good firm - the best firm."
Another said: "You can imagine what the mood's like - it's tragic for the local economy and everybody is very upset".
Sinn Féin assembly member Daithí McKay said workers leaving their jobs at JTI Gallahers should be given every assistance to find replacement jobs.
"The loss of these jobs in Ballymena is obviously a significant blow to the local economy," he said.
"This is an area that has experienced a number of job losses in recent years.
"JTI Gallahers have given many reasons for these job losses but it is clear they are chasing cheaper wage bills.
"The staff who are leaving their jobs in Gallahers should be given every assistance in terms of retraining, re-skilling and finding new employment."
The staff leaving Gallaher's yesterday coincided with the introduction of the government's plain packaging rules for tobacco products.
Legislation comes into force today on "plain" cigarette packages, stripping brightly-coloured branding from tobacco packs with standardised packaging.
Boxes of 10 cigarettes have also been banned.
It comes after tobacco companies lost a legal challenge over the introduction of the laws.