Concerns have been raised about the future of production at the Armaghdown Creameries facility in Banbridge.
The issue was debated during questions to the Economy Minister in the Assembly Chamber on Tuesday afternoon.
Speaking in the Chamber local MLA Jo-Anne Dobson raised the concerns of local employees and their families and criticised Cavan-based Lakeland Dairies for purchasing the Banbridge plant ‘to great fanfare in May, only to close it in September.’
Commenting Mrs Dobson said: “I have spoken with many of the staff affected and share the concerns in the community that, despite previous assurances from the company, production is unlikely to return to the plant.
“During Minister Hamilton’s response it emerged that 57 of the 70 employees have now taken voluntary redundancy and a further three have been ‘redeployed.’ This is deeply sad news and involves the loss by this company of decades of experience, loyalty and commitment to dairy production in Banbridge.
“It concerns me that this loyalty, despite promises made to staff by Lakeland Management in May, has been disregarded completely. No one would be more delighted than I would to see production and employment return to the town, but it would be bitter-sweet for those employees who have lost their jobs and for whom trust is lost also. I asked the Minister to give assurances that he will take steps to ‘avoid future piracy in the dairy industry’ so that in future employees and their families will never be left in the position of uncertainly which faced by employees of the Creamery in August.
“Following contact from staff affected I wrote to the Economy and Agriculture Ministers in August as they had a duty to intervene on behalf of the staff in Banbridge whose jobs were put at risk effectively overnight.
“I also wrote to Michael Hanley, Chief Executive of Creamery owners Lakeland Dairies to convey to him that the consequences of the decision taken by his company will be felt in homes across the local area.
“The loss of creamery production in Banbridge would be a bitter blow to the town and to our local economy. The dairy industry is going through considerable challenges but it is deplorable for a company to treat staff, who they took under their wing in May, the way in which they have just a few short months later.
“The Economy Minister must redouble his efforts to ensure that no employees are ever put in this position again.”