95 more jobs going at Wrightbus - and Brexit is being blamed

Wright Group in Ballymena is set to shed another 95 jobs, following a similar announcement in February
Wright Group in Ballymena is set to shed another 95 jobs, following a similar announcement in February

NEARLY 100 more jobs are going at the Wright Group in Ballymena - and Brexit is being blamed.

Some 95 staff in the company's Wrightbus, Customcare and EN-Drive subsidiaries were informed yesterday that their roles are at risk.

It follows an announcement in February that 95 workers were also being made redundant.

It stems from a marked downturn in orders in the home market, including Transport for London, where customers are seemingly unnerved at the prospect of making decisions on large capital expenditure and are adopting a "wait and see" stance until after the UK leaves the EU market.

Wright Group confirmed that it has opened a 30-day consultation period which could lead to a further reduction in its 1,500-strong Northern Ireland workforce.

And it also comes within weeks of the company's founder William Wright - one of the few high-profile business figures in the north to come out in support of the UK leaving the EU - being at Buckingham Palace to receive a knighthood.

Wright Group chairman Mark Nodder said: “There is a good deal of continuing uncertainty at present, specifically in the UK market, which is causing private and public bus operators alike to delay or postpone their vehicle investment programmes.

“This has a direct impact on production levels at our Ballymena facilities and the announcement we are making today - difficult and regrettable as it is - is necessary to align workforce requirements with our near term order book.”

He added: “We are naturally working proactively with the union, employee representatives and other stakeholders to mitigate both the scale and the impact of job cuts within our business.

"With existing contracts in build or in the pipeline, and a number of potential projects yet to come to fruition, the company continues to be well positioned for when the market demand for new buses returns to more normal levels.”

Responding on behalf of the Unite union, which represents the majority of the workforce, regional officer George Brash said: “ This is dreadful news for Wright group workers and the beleaguered Ballymena economy, and we are deeply sceptical of the timing of what appears another major job loss announcement by the Wright group.

“Given it is less than four months since the last redundancy – which just happened to be below 100 job losses – we have to question whether Wright group bosses are purposefully staggering job losses so that they don’t exceed the threshold triggering a full 90-day consultation period and the opportunity for our union to bring forward alternatives.

“The last job loss announcement was blamed on the loss of sales to Transport for London and the protracted delay in new orders from Translink. We had previously challenged the inexcusable betrayal of Northern Ireland workers by those in government in London who transferred the TfL contracts to China and Egypt.

“In February we questioned whether the failure to progress new environmentally-friendly hybrid buses under a five-year contract to supply Translink was due to the absence of a ministerial sign-off.

“We have yet to receive any clarification on that. If it is true, then the workers of the Wright Group are paying the price for the continued impasse and the failure of our politicians."

Stephen Kelly, chief executive of Manufacturing NI, told the Irish News: "Obviously this is bitterly disappointing news for the workers and their families.

"The lack of decision-making on capital spend at the top of big companies is currently feeding down the supply chain, and the longer-term impact is very worrying."

Last month the Irish News revealed that the Wright Group's international division had secured a breakthrough order in Mexico for five of its innovative StreetDeck double deck vehicles, which have entered service in Monterrey city.

It marked the first phase in an ambitious Wrightbus plan for Latin America, which will include cities in Mexico and Chile.

Wrightbus is currently preparing to move some of its production to the former JTI Gallaher site in Ballymena, where it plans to build a 200,000 sq ft industrial complex, 600-space car park and 75 two-storey residential houses.