Wrightbus has announced up to 125 job losses from its Ballymena headquarters, a move the company’s Chief Executive has said is necessary to safeguard the firm’s future.
Up to 35 permanent employees will be be made redundant, with a reduction in agency staff of up to 90. Despite the layoffs, Wrightbus still says it will have 10 times more staff than it had when it was bought out of administration by Jo Bamford’s company in 2019.
Chief Executive Buta Atwal said: “When we saved Wrightbus there were only about 50 employees, and since then we have grown the workforce to 700.
“The decision has been taken to trim the workforce to the size we believe we will need to see us through to the end of the year.
“The redundancies are a necessary measure given the economic slowdown as a result of the current coronavirus crisis.
“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.
“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’s Regional Officer, George Brash commented: “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.
“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.
“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.”
Meanwhile, North Antrim MP Ian Paisley 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.
“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.”