BALLYMENA, Northern Ireland – Poultry processor Moy Park, a subsidiary of Pilgrim’s Pride Corp., announced the temporary closure of operations at the company’s poultry processing plant in Ballymena, County Antrim, Northern Ireland. Citing challenging market conditions for poultry, the company will suspend production at the plant until January 2020.

Craigavon, Northern Ireland-based Moy Park is among the leading food companies in the United Kingdom and one of Europe’s leading poultry producers. The company operates 12 processing and manufacturing plants in Northern Ireland, England, France and the Netherlands. According to the company’s website, Moy Park processes more than 280 million birds per year and approximately 200,000 tons of prepared foods per year.

Approximately 1,700 individuals work at the facility, however, the company said it does not anticipate any job losses. Workers will be assigned to other Moy Park facilities during the closure. Union representatives with Unite expressed concern that at least 400 jobs are at risk.

“Our members on the shop-floor are reporting that they have been told that this will result in up to four hundred job losses although the company are telling the media that there will be no job losses and that redundancies can be avoided through redeployment elsewhere,” said Sean McKeever, Unite regional officer representing the bulk of Moy Park’s workforce in Northern Ireland. “While Unite does not hold recognition rights for this workforce, Unite is the only trade union on the ground in North Antrim and we do not accept the need or case for any job losses in Ballymena or anywhere else in Northern Ireland.”

In line with the company’s proposal to suspend live poultry processing at the Ballymena plant, Moy Park said the company also is proposing to temporarily cease hatching for the facility until November 2019.

Greeley, Colorado-based Pilgrim’s Pride acquired Moy Park from São Paulo, Brazil-based JBS SA for approximately $1.3 billion in 2017. JBS also is one of Pilgrim’s largest shareholders. At the time of the acquisition, Pilgrim’s CEO Bill Lovette said, “The acquisition gives us access to the attractive UK and European markets, which advances our strategy of diversifying our portfolio to be more global while reducing volatility across our businesses. We will have new business opportunities through the addition of Moy Park’s fully integrated poultry production platform and its strong presence in prepared foods.”

However, the Moy Park acquisition currently is the subject of a shareholder lawsuit. In March, a federal charge ruled that JBS and Pilgrim’s executives will face trial over the deal. The lawsuit alleges that Pilgrim’s was forced to acquire Moy Park because JBS needed the cash to pay off a $3 billion fine levied against JBS SA’s parent company, J&F Investimentos. The fine stems from legal problems of brothers Joesley and Wesley Batista, who were accused of corruption by federal prosecutors in Brazil.

McKeever noted that Moy Park’s announcement “…comes only a fortnight after a Delaware judge ruled that executives from JBS SA and Pilgrim’s Pride will face trial over a shareholder lawsuit relating to the acquisition of Moy Park in 2017.

“The court heard allegations that the sale was forced on JBS subsidiary Pilgrim’s Pride to meet the costs of a $3 billion fine imposed on the parent company for activities including the reported bribery of one thousand officials,” McKeever continued. “It is little wonder that workers have little confidence in the commitments of this employer.”