A BRICK company forced to lay off staff at one County Durham site is paying its labour force at another not to come to work.

The “unprecedented” downturn in the housebuilding industry has led to a year’s backlog of bricks at a plant belonging to Wienerberger.

On September 12, Wienerberger, the world’s largest brick-making company, announced plans to make 27 of its 33 staff at the Eldon works, near Bishop Auckland, redundant.

Now, the 50-strong workforce at its Todhills works, near Newfield, Bishop Auckland, are on a “lay-off”, where staff will be paid a wage in accordance with employment laws, but the majority are unlikely to return to normal working before March.

It allows a company to retain staff without making them redundant, when it plans to only stop full operations at a works for a period of time.

Wienerberger operations director Pat Furr said: “The guys are going to be laid off, partly without pay, but mostly with pay for four to five months, up to March 1.

“The situation is not quite as grave (as Eldon) so we have vetoed the redundancy option.

“There will be a short period of time with no pay in the layoff period, but we think we are being reasonable.

“We are paying for longer than we need to because we want to keep employment and not lose people, as we expect the building industry to pick up at some point.”

At the end of a 30-day consultation period, the Eldon plant will stop making bricks, at which point 27 of the 33 staff are expected to leave.

The plant will then be mothballed, running with a skeleton staff until things pick up, possibly next spring or summer.

Mr Furr said: “We have in excess of a year’s stock, which is a lot – usually we have eight to ten weeks. We can’t keep paying people for that length of time.”

Workers who had been made redundant will be contacted when the plant was running again to see if they would like to return.

Under the Todhills lay-off agreement, staff will be paid in full for the first seven days, which could be up to two weeks wages depending on shift patterns, then not paid for the next two weeks.

Then they will be paid the industry basic rate for all of November and December, before the system starts again in January and continues to the end of February.