Northern Ireland news

Two Belfast leisure centres close as Unite workers strike over pensions

Bimpe Archer
24 May, 2016 12:00

STRIKING leisure centre workers have been accused of being led into a "very selfish act" by their trade union, after two facilities closed and a third had opening delayed until lunchtime.

Falls Leisure Centre in west Belfast and Loughshore Recreation Centre in north Belfast closed on Monday, while Andersonstown Leisure Centre's opening was delayed until 1.35pm.

This follows a decision by 130 Unite members at 14 leisure centres in the city to mount a 24-hour strike over pay, pension and staffing issues at the former council leisure centres.

Workers have also vowed to adopt a work-to-rule and over-time ban in their dispute with operator Greenwich Leisure Limited (GLL).

GLL said there might be "some disruption" during the strike period.

Other centres affected include Whiterock, Ballysillan, Avoniel, Belvoir, Shankill, Olympia, the Ozone and Grove Wellbeing.

Unite members voted by 97 per cent for strike action in a dispute that centres on casual workers' access to pension schemes and the quality of cover and staffing provided at centres.

However, according to a GLL spokeswoman, the members who voted account for just 13 per cent of the workforce.

Regional manager of the group Katrina Morgan said it was "open to negotiations" but is "not fully sure" what the issues are.

Unite officers reported "rock-solid turnout and strong public support" for the strike.

Unite's Davy Edmont insisted the union had "sought to work constructively with Belfast City Council on their outsourcing of the management of leisure facilities to Greenwich Leisure Ltd."

"Our members were guaranteed that pay and pensions would not be affected by the TUPE transfer and that these would extend to any new staff taken on. Despite these assurances, GLL initially denied casual workers access to even a basic private sector pension, let alone the automatic enrolment in the NILGOSC pension which was agreed between all parties," he said.

"The original agreement was for full NILGOSC pension contributions for all workers to be underwritten by Belfast City Council.

"GLL has failed to abide by the terms of that agreement.

"Support for this strike from the general public has been overwhelming and this industrial dispute looks likely to escalate with members of other unions seeking to join Unite the union's action."

UUP councillor Graham Craig condemned strike, describing it as "a very selfish act by the leaders of a hard left trade union".

"They obviously have no regard for either the ratepayers of Belfast. or the customers of our leisure facilities," he said.

"They seem to care only for their narrow political interests."

"This strike is without justification. Talks are due to be held next month. So why strike. Striking should be a last resort not a negotiating tool."

He praised "other loyal staff who today will be making an extra effort and ensuring that irruption is minimal".

24 May, 2016 12:00 Northern Ireland news