Northern Ireland news

140 casual staff laid off at Belfast's Waterfront and Ulster Hall

The Waterfront Hall in Belfast
Brendan Hughes

THE Waterfront and Ulster Hall in Belfast are laying off 140 casual staff in the latest blow to the events industry as a result of Covid-19.

The workers had been furloughed during the pandemic, but are not being moved to the new job support scheme which replaces furlough next month.

The firm owned by Belfast City Council which runs the Waterfront and Ulster Hall said they were seeking to "protect the long-term viability of the venues".

Belfast Waterfront and Ulster Hall Ltd (BWUH) has a casual worker pool of 140 people, who would staff events when available and as required.

They had been receiving 80 per cent of their average earnings through the British government's furlough scheme.

Furlough is being replaced on November 1 by the Job Support Scheme, which pays 67 per cent of wages for workplaces forced to close.

However, BWUH has told casual staff that after "very careful consideration" it concluded the new scheme was "simply not a viable financial option".

People Before Profit councillor Matt Collins said he was "aghast" at the development.

He said the affected staff are the "backbone of these services, the technicians, porters and front-of-house staff, who have delivered the events for this city for years".

"Some of the staff have worked full-time hours for years. It is shocking that they were casually employed in the first place and it is frankly disgraceful that they are being discarded in this way," he said.

"This is the latest in a pattern across local government whereby underpaid workers, often employed by private firms who have benefited from outsourcing, are being failed during this crisis. It must be resisted."

The west Belfast councillor said his party was calling for "immediate intervention" from the council and BWUH to "make use of the job retention scheme and save these posts".

The Waterfront Hall, its conference venue ICC Belfast and the Ulster Hall have been closed to the public since March due to coronavirus restrictions.

In a statement BWUH Ltd said: "Under the government Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, we continued to pay our team of both casual and permanent staff.

"To ensure BWUH Ltd does all that it can to protect the long-term viability of the venues, and in line with the end of the furlough scheme on October 31 2020, payments to casual team members have now ceased.

"With casual contracts, there is no obligation for an employer to offer paid work to casual staff, and likewise, no obligation for the casual worker to accept work.

"Our permanent team, some of whom are currently on furlough, will now transfer to the Job Support Scheme eligible to businesses like us, which are forced to close due to coronavirus restrictions."

The firm said it remains committed to working with the government and the events industry to "explore ways for our sector to restart safely".

The jobs blow emerges as a survey by Belfast Chamber of more than 100 of its members found almost half have had to make staff redundant as a result of Covid-19 pressures.

Of those surveyed 45 per cent expect they will have to make further redundancies in the next six months.

Belfast Chamber chief executive Simon Hamilton said it showed the "scale of the jobs crisis we are facing".

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