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Last Updated: Wednesday, 27 October, 2004, 08:41 GMT 09:41 UK
Tobacco workers face redundancy
Richard Dunhill, Pipesmoker of the Year 2002
There is less of a demand for pipe tobacco
Efforts are under way to get the best possible deal for workers at a pipe tobacco plant in Belfast which is facing possible closure.

The owners of Murray and Sons is proposing to close its plant on Sandy Row, with the loss of 63 jobs.

The company is blaming a fall in global demand for pipe tobacco as well as rising costs.

The firm, which is owned by British American Tobacco, was established in Belfast nearly 200 years ago.

Its products are sold in 45 countries around the world.

In the event of closure we would aim to reach agreement on a social plan that would mitigate the impact of the proposed closure on our people
Keith Harvey
Murray and Sons

The company has begun consultations with employees and unions, following an indepth review of the plant's future.

Keith Harvey, the firm's operations manager, said the decision was regrettable.

"Whilst our production is decreasing by an average of 7% per year, our costs are rising by 10%," he said.

"It has therefore been concluded that we can be more competitive if we outsource our pipe tobacco production to an external supplier.

"No final decision will be reached until we have consulted with our employees and their representatives, but in the event of closure we would aim to reach agreement on a social plan that would mitigate the impact of the proposed closure on our people."

Consultation process

The company was established in Belfast in 1810 and produces well-known pipe tobacco brands such as Dunhill, Erinmore and Craven.

It became a member of the British American Tobacco Group as part of the merger with Rothmans International in June 1999

In a statement, the company said the global pipe tobacco market was in long-term decline, at an average rate of 7-8% per annum. This is due to changing consumer preferences.

The company said production volumes at Murray Sons & Company are expected to drop by 20% between 2004 and 2007.

As part of the proposal, production would be outsourced to a third-party manufacturer, but there will be no final decision until the 30-day consultation process is concluded.


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