COATS BARBOUR, the owners of Lisburn's historic Hilden Mill, have moved to allay fears that job losses will follow the sale of the factory.
Hilden Mill was put up for sale last week and workers, politicians and trade union representatives have expressed grave concerns about the possible effect on the 100-strong workforce.
However, the company says any sale is dependent on a lease back deal to ensure the factory can continue working as normal.
A spokesperson for the company said no job losses will result directly from the sale.
He continued: "Coats Barbour Ltd. has commenced its marketing of its Hilden site on a sale and lease back basis.
"The site has a total building space of approximately 40,000sq metres, of which currently only approximately 18%, 7,000sq metres, is used for operations.
"82% of the land and building remains surplus and unused and presents an increasing financial burden to the operations and therefore the sale and lease back of what is required for operations only." He went on to say: "The migration of the textile industry and our customers to the Far East and Eastern Europe and the demand for thread at needlepoint, in steep decline over the past four years, has resulted in the reduction of manufacturing capacity over the years.
"The company has held prior consultations and communications with the union and employees on this matter.
"Coats/Barbour Ltd employs approximately 100 staff at its site at Hilden. There will be no direct employee redundancy impact arising from this financial arrangement."
Despite assurances, trade union representatives have raised a number of concerns with the owners and have put forward a number of queries regarding the sale.
They include whether plans have been submitted for the redevelopment of the site and whether any potential buyers have been identified.
A spokesperson for the ATGWU, which represents workers at Hilden Mill, David McMurray, said he was concerned by the sale of Hilden Mill.
He said: "I live in Lisburn and I remember the days when six buses left workers off at Hilden Mill. "That mill has been there since 1823 and was taken over by Coats in 1999. There are a lot of concerns that I have about the sale and the jobs there." "I am also concerned about the mayhem that demolition of the building could cause in the local community.
"There is also grave concern about asbestos in these old buildings."
Mr McMurray said staff had seen what had happened across the textile sector in Northern Ireland and were in a state of permanent concern about their jobs.
"They go into work everyday and don't know what is happening" he said.
Mr McMurray thanked public representatives for all their support. He said: "We are very pleased with the help we have received from local representatives, politicians, MLAs and the MP."
LOCAL politicians have voiced their support for the workers at Hilden Mill.Lagan Valley MLA Edwin Poots said he was very concerned about the future of the 100 staff at the factory. Mr Poots pointed out the Mill had once employed around 700 people, but had seen that figure shrink over the years to around 100.
He said Hilden was renowned for producing specialist thread but even that sort of specialist work was transferring to China.
He continued: "When we first met Coats approximately two years ago to discuss the position of the workers in the factory, there were no guarantees that the jobs at Hilden were secure. "Realistically it seems unlikely that the remaining jobs at Hilden Mill can be saved in the long term." Councillor for Lisburn Town South, Paul Porter, who has friends and family working at the mill, has also sought assurances.
Mr Porter said: "As someone who has had brothers, sisters and close family friends who have worked in the mill over many years and close friends who still work there, I have massive concerns about the remaining jobs.
"This is something that myself and my council colleagues will continue to fight at all levels."