The closure of the Ballymena Michelin plant has come as a major shock to the workforce – even though there were rumours it was one of a number across Europe being considered for the axe.
Around £45 million has been invested in the Co Antrim site over the last 10 years and at least one trade union will be lobbying in the hope of having the decision reversed.
One worker, who has been with Michelin for almost 20 years, described the mood on the shop floor on Tuesday morning as “grim” ahead of the expected closure announcement.
He said “the signs were there” and claimed it was noticeable that the company had not invested in any significant new machinery that was not suitable for transfer to another site.
“We had been repeatedly told about new machinery for the new generation of tyres coming to the factory but there was no sign of them.
“That had people thinking it was only a matter of time before there was an announcement.”
The worker, who did not wish to be named, told the News Letter: “Where do we go now?
“It’s too soon to know for sure what people will do [after the closure] but it’s certainly a major worry.”
Another worker at the plant, Michael McGaughey, told the BBC: “There has been talk about it for a long time – with the economic situation worldwide.
“Everybody thinks something is going to happen somewhere, but you never expect that it’s going to happen on your own doorstep.
“No matter how big the rumours are, you never expect it.”
The Unite union described the news as “a huge blow to workers in the mouth of Christmas” and claimed high energy costs had helped seal its fate.
“It is devastating news for the north east economy and that of Northern Ireland as a whole,” Davy Thompson of Unite said.
“The proposal to close the plant comes within a year of a decision by JTI-Gallagher to close its Ballymena site with the loss of almost 900 jobs.
“In addition to the 860 workers who are directly employed by Michelin on the site, there are approximately 500 contractors and many more in the wider economy who now face the threat of redundancy as a result of this announcement.”
The union’s regional coordinating officer said the decision “is reflective of the failure by the NI Executive” to devise a strategy to protect manufacturing jobs.
He added: “Given the long lead-in time until the plant is proposed to be closed, Unite is hopeful that we might convince Michelin to reverse this decision.
“Even at this late stage, we remain hopeful that corporate management may reconsider their decision to close this site if the NI Executive intervenes decisively to address the underlying reasons for this decision.
“It will be devastating for the community – you’re talking about the wages of hundreds of people locally that aren’t going back into the community so, without that money being spent, it’s going to have a knock-on effect on other businesses.”
Peter Bunting of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) also called for a “manufacturing strategy” and said unfavourably high energy costs must be addressed by the NI Executive.