Ulster Carpet Mills has woven itself an environment of fairness, trust and respect, which emphasises unity and focuses on beating the competition.
Not an easy feat for a company based in Garvaghy Road, Portadown, an annual flashpoint within a divided Northern Irish community. Despite the local tensions 79% of the workforce trust the abilities of their fellow workers, 80% say they work with a fun team, and 84% say they laugh a lot with their colleagues.
Traditionally the company has employed generations of families and some employees have celebrated 50 years of service. George Walter Wilson founded the firm in 1938 and his sons Edward, John and Walter still play an active role. There is now a South African operation, based in Durban.
Ulster Carpets is one of the world’s biggest and most progressive carpet manufacturers, servicing global retail and contract markets. Of workers surveyed 87% say that the company has strong principles for treating customers well and 78% say that the same applies to suppliers.
Hard work is rewarded: employees of the month are offered a free trip to South Africa to visit the company’s Durban factory, with five days of sightseeing thrown in.
Benefits are reasonably good and profit-related bonuses (of 3.9% in 2001) are offered to all employees. All staff have life insurance and private healthcare. Pensions are also generous, with the company contributing 8%-9% of salary. The company is currently reviewing its flexible working policy and provisions for maternity and paternity leave. However, maternity pay is already over the statutory minimum and childcare vouchers have recently been introduced. Staff also get free financial advice and medicals.
Employees are given paid time for charity work and the company matches donations. The firm is involved with literacy programmes, the Prince’s Trust, and many charity initiatives, and it offers guidance and support services to local small businesses, provides sites for St John Ambulance and, for the hard of hearing, a talking newspaper. In South Africa the company is involved in education projects and the nation-building programme, which brings together children from the country’s four main ethnic groups.
It is also careful about the environment: more than 80% of a typical carpet is made up of renewable resources.
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