Michelin closure: ‘The reality didn’t sink in until I saw it on TV news’

Steven Eakin said he might have to consider relocation in light of the Michelin announcement
Steven Eakin said he might have to consider relocation in light of the Michelin announcement

Homes of Michelin tyre factory workers in north Antrim were “devastated” on Tuesday night, hours after the bombshell announcement on the factory’s imminent closure sunk in.

Among those trying to “process the news” was 28-year-old Steven Eakin, whose father and uncle also work in the Broughshane factory.

Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers’ reaction to the forthcoming end of manufacturing at the plant in Ballymena echoed that of MP for the area Ian Paisley, who described the announcement as “apocalyptic”.

The company said it is “running down” the truck tyre factory ahead of eventual closure in mid-2018.

The move is part of a restructuring plan that will see investment in its facilities in Dundee and Stoke on Trent.

Union bosses warned that 500 contractors who work with Michelin will also be affected, along with many other local businesses whose trade relies on the plant.

Mr Eakin said: “I know I am in a better position than other boys with young families, because relocating for them would be impossible.

“I thought about relocating a few years ago, but it is a more serious option now. We will have to see what is on offer and it is something to consider.”

Mr Eakin, a member of the Unite union, said there is a 90-day consultation period between the union and company.

“We will have to see what comes out of that,” he added.

“Redundancy packages need to be negotiated and I suppose we won’t know until the New Year.”

The Cullybackey man, a maintenance technician, said the news at the meeting on Tuesday was “devastating” even though “for a number of years it has been talked about that Michelin in Ballymena was expensive and inefficient for the company compared to their factories in China and Eastern Europe, and the cost of energy prices as well”.

“I knew I wasn’t going to get the rest of my life out of it,” he said. “My father has been there nearly 20 years now and I have an uncle there nearly 30 years.

“All my friends work there. In the department I was in it was like a big family, even in the middle of the night if there was a problem I would make a call and I would get assistance. We all looked after each other.

“During the meeting when we heard the news there was no uproar, everyone stood in silence.

“We were told to return to our departments and see our managers and return to work on Thursday.

“Personally I don’t think it really sunk in with me until I saw it on the TV news.”

He added that Michelin “has been a good company to work for and their wages brought me and my five siblings up”.

He said he has been “highly trained and skilled” through Michelin, “but I am not sure the skills I have can be used in another company”.

“I know the mindset of the workforce and it will keep going and carrying on,” he said. “The work ethic has always been to produce what we can, as best we can at all times.

“The work ethic is there, the skills are there, but where to now? And retraining for what?

“Ballymena has predominantly had a strong engineering and manufacturing base.

“Now Gallahers is going and ourselves, so it will affect all the small engineering firms around Ballymena who have invested and progressed through work for us.”