Carillion collapse could lead to 500 redundancies in Northern Ireland
AS many as 500 people in Northern Ireland working on contracts for stricken construction giant Carillion are facing redundancy after the construction giant confirmed it was going into liquidation amid claims it was lining the pockets of its shareholders.
The company employs around 20,000 workers, but has been struggling under £900 million of debt and a £590 million pension deficit.
Carillion has three major contracts with the Northern Ireland Housing Executive for home maintenance and gas installation and also does work for electricity supply company Power NI.
The housing maintenance contracts apply to properties in north Down, including the Newtownards area, and also south and east Belfast, and together with the gas installation, the contracts are worth an estimated £35 million a year.
A spokesman for the NIHE said: “We are continuing to monitor the situation closely and will implement contingency arrangements regarding our maintenance and heating services as soon as required."
Unions representing the Carillion workers in the north say staff need assurances about whether they have a job, who will pay their wages, and what's going to happen to their pensions.
The GMB union, however, said it has received confirmation from management that members in Northern Ireland will continue to be paid until the end of January.
“We hope our members will be transferred to other providers through TUPE and the impact will be minimised for them," GMB regional organiser Micheal Mulholland said.
“GMB is now seeking information from the NI Housing Executive for details on how they intend to ensure the contracts are fulfilled.”
Unite union regional secretary Jackie Pollock said: “Carillion employs approximately 500 workers in Northern Ireland, almost half of whom are employed in social housing maintenance work for the Housing Executive.
“We have been aware of the threats hanging over Carillion for some time and we successful sought a meeting a number of months ago with the chief executive of the Housing Executive at which we demanded all jobs be safeguarded in the event of a collapse.
"At that time we received assurances that in the event of a liquidation the contract would be offered to an alternative operator so that there would be no discontinuity of employment or of the maintenance services for tenants.
“Unfortunately our members have reported that when employees presented for work this morning they were instructed to go home. Agency workers were told that they should return to their employment agency for further instructions and those who drove vehicles were instructed to remove all personal possessions and return them.
"It is clear that despite those assurances from the Housing Executive, we are facing the threat of large-scale redundancy."
Unite said that as well as continuing to engage with members working for Carillion in the coming days, it will be coordinating efforts with those of its colleagues nationally who represent the interests of 20,000 Carillion employees across all parts of the UK.
Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington, in a statement at Westminster, said the collapse of Carillion is "regrettable" but as a private company its shareholders will "bear the brunt" and not taxpayers.
He said a helpline is being set up to assist employees and pensioners, and the government will help ensure "uninterrupted delivery of public services".
Federation of Small Businesses chief Mike Cherry says some small businesses will go to the wall as a result of Carillion's collapse.
"Whilst we all concentrate on the employees of Carillion, we never seem to really count the fall out in the supply chain completely, and I very much regret that this is going to be quite significant," he said.
"My heart goes out to all those small businesses wondering what's going to happen next."