Decision by city councillors to end partnership removes only oversight mechanism but union pledges it will not silence voice of workers or challenge to poor management practices
The move to wind down ABL runs in direct opposition to the political commitments of many parties on the council to social partnership. The move excludes the voice of trade unions and other key stakeholders from the running of municipal leisure facilities; the outsourcing of leisure services in 2014 made no provision for trade union recognition. The decision to scrap ABL follows a vote of Belfast City Council’s SP&R committee in November 2020 to initiate a review of the ‘tri-partite leisure model’. The council employed First Point Management and Consultancy to that end and they brought forward a recommendation to wind up ABL. This was approved at a meeting in April 2022.
Unite Regional Officer Kieran Ellison challenged Belfast City Council over the decision.
“Some of the parties on Belfast City Council would claim to be opposed to outsourcing yet voted to keep Greenwich Leisure Limited running municipal leisure facilities. The result of that outsourcing has been disastrous for workers and working-class communities. It has created a two-tier workforce within GLL, with the rates of pay for both sets of staff much lower that their Leisure colleagues in other councils in Northern Ireland, a situation that has further exacerbated by the current cost of living crisis. Our members have had to strike to defend their basic pension rights; while their ability to secure pay increases have been undermined by ‘divide and conquer’ tactics which a two-tier workforce opens up.
“What I also find to be perverse is that GLL have an inbuilt CPI inflationary uplift to fees inbuilt to the contact with Belfast City Council, while they refuse to implement anything of similar value of a pay uplift to staff, all the while publically flying the flag of a not-for-profit social enterprise. There is a lot that does not add up and as demonstrated by the winding up of ABL, it appears there are some who are adverse to scrutiny.
“Outsourcing has been a disaster for staff. The trade unions representing the workers were offered a seat at the ABL table as a substitute for a recognition agreement. This was meant to offer some input but now we see even this meagre protection being scrapped. Where are the protections for workers? How will their voice be heard?
“If Belfast City Council want to scrap ABL and do away with social partnership altogether, then they at least need to ensure that the workforce are afforded full trade union recognition rights. At least that way trade union reps will have solid grounds to represent our members’ interests and our health and safety reps will have the powers to intervene where there are genuine safety concerns. If Belfast City Council think that shutting down this partnership structure will do away with the voice of workers or our challenge to poor management practices – then they are very much wrong.”