Decision to shutdown kill line at Ballymena reflects failure of management to meet post-Brexit labour market challenges
Union questions logic of suspension as business will face even greater problems recruiting to reopen in September
For the second time in three years, Moy Park has suspended the operation of its chicken kill line at Ballymena citing difficulties with raw materials, high energy costs and the loss of a recent contract. Unite challenged the explanation offered by the company and stated that the overriding reason for the closure was the chronic labour shortages that the company was experiencing. Union workforce reps are reporting a complete stalling of inductions as recruitment has stalled across the company.
Moy Park is Northern Ireland’s biggest employer and a hugely profitable company. The company’s latest filed accounts, for 2020, reported an increased profit of £86 million on turnover of £1.45 billion – with profits up by 15 percent on the previous year. Unite is calling for business to use these vast profits to improve the pay and conditions of its workforce to attract and retain new recruits as the only way to safeguard the current productive capacity of the business.
Unite General Secretary Sharon Graham said,
“Moy park management need to recognise that Brexit has completely changed the labour market in Northern Ireland. They cannot continue to offer low pay and poor working conditions and rely on overseas recruitment to fill the gaps resulting from high staff turnover.
“This is a hugely successful company but instead of amassing more and more profits for shareholders, management need to increase pay and deliver real improvements to terms and conditions to avoid a damaging staffing crisis which will hugely impair their productive capacity.”
The decision to suspend the kill-line in Ballymena comes despite the company having invested tens of millions in upgrading facilities at the site in recent years. Unite warned that the shutdown poses a concern to thousands of jobs elsewhere in the business if management does not take address the growing labour shortage problem. Indeed workforce recruitment difficulties in Moy Park are highly likely to reverberate throughout the meat processing sector as well as impacting thousands of agricultural suppliers in the companies’ supply chain.
Unite Regional Officer for Moy Park, Sean McKeever, challenged the logic of the decision.
“The approach taken by management is hugely concerning. While the workers affected by this shutdown have been redeployed – Moy Park bosses are offering a variety of excuses and refusing to accept that this decision is a direct result of a failure to recruit and retain staff. Suspending this kill-line does nothing to address their problems – indeed, it will make it all the more difficult to recruit sufficient numbers to re-establish the facility as they plan in September.
“Unite is concerned that this is the start of a period of retrenchment within Moy Park with bosses more willing to cut production than increase pay or improve working conditions. The scale of labour shortages faced by Moy Park and that approach by management poses obvious concerns for thousands of jobs as the economic sustainability of operations comes into question. Instead of cutting back production, Moy Park bosses need to invest in their workforce and make this a company people want to work in.”