UNITE THE UNION GIVES THE PEOPLE A CHANCE TO GRILL POLITICIANS OVER BALLYMENA JOB LOSSES
Unite the Union, Britain and Ireland’s largest trade union, held a public meeting in The Braid town hall in Ballymena last night.
The aim of the meeting was to address the issues of a lack of investment and job cuts that have hit the town and surrounding areas in recent months. Over one thousand manufacturing jobs are due to be lost in Ballymena with the announcement of the closures of tyre company Michelin and tobacco factory JTI Gallaher. Bosses at the two companies broke the news to their staff just before Christmas and doors are due to be shut for good in the summer.
Jamie Delargy, UTV’s Business Editor, chaired the meeting, which saw eight representatives from each of the political parties standing in the upcoming assembly elections face questions from the public. Over a hundred people, some employees of the ill-fated companies marked for closure, filled the auditorium in The Braid town hall in search of answers to the escalating issue.
The sense of anger within the crowd was palpable as the evening started off with one audience member pointing the finger of blame squarely at the politicians and their lack of action in preventing these factory closures in the town. DUP representative David McIlveen defended the performance of his party in the executive, stating that they had overseen the creation of 40,000 new jobs across Northern Ireland since the start of the last assembly term in 2011. This answer was met with a grumble from the crowd and jeers of “Not in Ballymena” from one man.
Another audience member, a worker for Chain Reaction Cycles based in Doagh, raised the issue of the bicycle manufacturing company’s announcement of a merger with English competitor Wiggle. The announcement came in February, and the man said he was issuing a formal ‘notice’ to the politicians of the workers fears that their jobs are in jeopardy. The worry for many, he said, was that jobs could be relocated to Wiggle’s base in Portsmouth and the merger was more like a “takeover.”
Adrian Cochrane-Watson, UUP MLA for South Antrim, responded by saying that he had close ties with the manufacturing sector and was a long-time trade union supporter. He informed the disgruntled worker that he had met with executives at Wiggle and was working on ensuring that no jobs were lost in Northern Ireland as a result of the merger.
Much of the latter portion of the evening saw audience members voicing their disillusionment in the performance of Invest NI, the body responsible for bringing jobs and investment in the region. Many felt that Invest NI’s focus was only on Belfast and they had done little to encourage investment in smaller towns such as Ballymena and Larne.
Lack of jobs for qualified teachers and drops in the profits of local farmers were also among the concerns of various audience members. Those on the panel however, could do little to appease the crowd, other than with assurances that they would try harder in the next five years.