Welcome for Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council decision to reconsider plans for dismissal threat to 73 workers and instead seek furlough

Kieran EllisonUnite has written to NI Executive Ministers, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Chancellor to demand clear guidelines on public sector eligibility for Coronavirus furlough scheme

Kieran Ellison, Unite Regional Officer welcomed today’s announcement by Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council which came on the back of union efforts to avert the dismissal of council employees on permanent, fixed term and agency contracts.

“Today’s announcement will come as very welcome news to those at Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council who were facing the immediate prospect of dismissal. 

“Workforce unions, Unite, GMB and NIPSA, were given only forty-eight hours’ notice of the mass dismissals. Unite wrote to every councillor indicating our intention to challenge robustly council plans in response to plans by council officials to dismiss 27 agency workers, 17 workers on temporary fixed-term contracts and 29 permanent workers with less than one year’s employment by the end of the week; all workers who had no entitlement to redundancy. 

“Today’s announcement will mean that the threat to permanent and temporary staff is staved off for a fortnight and the council has written to request that those employed through employment agencies be placed on furlough.

“This decision gives time to investigate alternatives; in particular the option of furloughing council employees under the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS). Management at Antrim and Newtownabbey previously chose to discount the Direction issued by the Treasury on eligibility for the CJRS and instead relied upon the earlier guidelines issued by HMRC which had been superseded by the Direction. By comparison, other councils actively pursued the option of furloughing workers through the scheme – meaning workers were safeguarded from potential redundancy.

“The Ministers in the Northern Ireland Executive must now take advantage of this window of opportunity and move quickly to clarify matters. Unite has today written to the Ministers for Community (with responsibility for local authorities), Finance and Economy to request such clarification be provided on an urgent basis. Our Regional Secretary Jackie Pollock has also written to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland; given that the CJRS is primarily a Treasury scheme the onus is on the Treasury to explicitly include the public sector in its guidelines as opposed to not just pointedly excluding them.

“Unite would like to thank those political representatives who were involved in securing the current extension. We call on all councillors to stand by their employees when this issue comes back before them”, Mr Ellison concluded.

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