Demand that NIHE take over Regina Coeli women’s hostel to secure vital services raised by Unite with officials from Department for Communities

Protesters and staff at Regina Coeli House

Unite the union calls on Legion of Mary to do ‘right thing’ and transfer over its ownership of women’s hostel to safeguard provision for vulnerable women

Women-only facility providing support for homeless and vulnerable is best secured by Northern Ireland Housing Executive

Unite the union met with officials from the Department for Communities yesterday afternoon and presented the case for Minister Deirdre Hargey to intervene to safeguard Northern Ireland’s only ‘women-only’ hostel providing support to homeless and vulnerable women. The meeting followed requests from the union for a meeting with the Minister and protests to safeguard the facility.

Regional Secretary of Unite in Ireland, Jackie Pollock spoke after the meeting:

“We presented the concerns of our members and those of residents and indeed the local community to the officials to pass onto the Communities’ Minister. Through the Housing Executive’s Supporting People programme, Minister Hargey’s department funds the services currently provided at Regina Coeli House. She must now intervene to remove the threat of closure and ensure continuity of support and accommodation for homeless women”.

The Legion of Mary has told the press that they cannot sustain services at the building.

“Unite is calling on the Legion of Mary management committee to do the right thing and transfer ownership of Regina Coeli House to the Housing Executive who should now be prepared to run and sustain the service”.

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Workers commence 24-7 work-in occupation of Regina Coeli House in West Belfast

Supporters gathering outside gates of Regina Coeli House

Staff and residents at hostel for homeless women demand urgent intervention by Communities’ Minister Deirdre Hargey

Unite industrial and community members establish a solidarity camp outside the Regina Coeli

Workers at Regina Coeli House have commenced a 24-7 ‘work-in’ occupation of the hostel to demand Ministerial intervention to save the facility. The house faces closure at the end of February with staff members having already received advanced notice of redundancy from February 27th.

The staff will maintain workers’ control over the house ensuring support for the remaining residents until there is a guarantee from Stormont that it will not be closed.

The occupation has been directly supported and encouraged by Unite community members in the Jim Larkin branch. Over the Christmas period, they ensured deliveries were made when residents were left without food or oil. Unite industrial and community members have established a solidarity protest camp outside the Regina Coeli.

The action of the Unite members was hailed by Unite General Secretary Sharon Graham.

“I want to commend the Unite members working at Regina Coeli House who have taken this morning’s radical action as well as the members in the Jim Larkin community branch who have played a vital role. This will put the impending closure of this vital facility firmly on top of the agenda of the Stormont Executive.

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Unite seeks urgent meeting with Communities’ Minister over impending closure of Regina Coeli Women’s Hostel in West Belfast

Minimum pay workers receive notice of pending redundancy for February 27th at only women-only facility offering accommodation and addiction support for homeless in Northern Ireland

Regina Coeli house, at Lakeglen avenue in West Belfast, has provided a refuge to homeless and vulnerable women since 1935. The facility, owned by the Legion of Mary but funded by the NIHE through its Supporting People programme is the only facility offering exclusively female accommodation to support those suffering from addiction, mental health difficulties, homelessness and abuse.]]

In November, staff at the facility were plunged into uncertainty as media reported on the likelihood of closure within months. Workers were already fearful for the future given the exceptionally high staff turnover rate and the rapid decline in the number of residents at the 21 bed facility over the period of the Covid pandemic.

Taryn Trainor, Regional Equalities and Women’s Officer

A part of what now appears a concerted effort to clear the amenity, workers have had to witness vulnerable residents being removed from the all-female house into mixed accommodation despite their needs.

The staff at the house have joined Unite the union and in the absence of adequate food or heating provision, Unite’s Jim Larkin community branch has stepped up to provide food supplies to residents.

Unite Regional Equalities & Women’s Officer Taryn Trainor highlighted the need for this facility.

“Regina Coeli House is the only facility offering women-only accommodation for the homeless and those suffering from mental health or addiction difficulties. In some cases, the residents may have experienced violence or trauma from a violent partner and need an all-female facility to feel safe and less vulnerable and yet they have been forced into mixed accommodation. 

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Stormont must ensure Covid protections extend to Hospitality workers

Unite the union calls for clarity on any hospitality shutdown, mandates for social distancing and face coverings, and a support package providing 100 percent furlough and 100 percent sick pay

Stormont Executive must end its close association with hospitality bosses as they do not reflect the interests of workers

With Stormont set to debate its response to surging Covid transmission there is mounting speculation that a shutdown of the hospitality sector may be imposed in the immediate aftermath of Christmas.

Unite members in the sector set out their demands including clarity on the timing of any lockdown, the extension of basic health and safety measures to hospitality workplaces and employment support packages to ensure that workers do not pay the price for any lockdown.

Unite Regional Officer Neil Moore called on Stormont to provide clarification on its plans and to roll-out the necessary protections.

“Hospitality workers need clarity from Stormont. They have been left wondering whether their sector will be forced to close and whether they will have any income in the next week. While we see one billion pounds committed to the hospitality bosses – we are seeing nothing for workers. In fact, with the average 4 star hotel employing 120 workers, this would see just £50 support per employee. There are real fears among workers that they will be expected to pay the price for any shutdown. This is completely unacceptable.

“Stormont Ministers need to end their close association with the Hospitality bosses – they do not represent the interests of workers. Alongside clarity on the timing of any shutdown we need to see immediate action to impose basic health and safety protections – including social-distancing and mask mandates – as well as a commitment for 100 percent furlough and 100 percent sick pay for workers’ affected. Hospitality workers are calling time on Stormont’s political failure.”

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Hospitality workers’ health and safety must be guiding principle for new Stormont pandemic measures

Unite members in hospitality call for reintroduction of social distancing, strengthening of mask mandate and introduction of Covid hazard pay with 100 percent furlough and sick pay

Workers challenge confusing moves to introduce covid passports while social distancing and absence of measures to address pay and short-staffing

The Unite hospitality branch, representing workers across the sector, expressed concern at the handling Covid-19 health and safety measures by the Stormont Executive and by employers. 

Secretary of the Unite Hospitality branch in Northern Ireland, Amy Ferguson, challenged the Stormont Executive:

“Our first and greatest priority is the health, safety and wellbeing of workers in our industry. Workers have the right to be protected from a deadly virus while making a living for themselves; we should not have to choose between risking our health and avoiding debt. 

“While we encourage all Hospitality branch members – and those who visit our venues as customers – to take the vaccine to minimise its spread and the risk of developing fatal symptoms of the virus – we are also concerned about the current rules and restrictions being introduced.

“If the Stormont Executive is genuinely committed to minimising the spread of the virus, then the guiding principle needs to be workers’ safety – not making quick bucks for businesses. The introduction of covid passports at the same time as social distancing was dropped is hard to justify. After all, it is the bartenders, baristas, chefs, KPs, housekeepers, waiting staff etc. who are currently risking their health to keep the industry afloat; not the Executive and certainly not business representatives who haven’t been in the line of service for years. Why is it unsafe for office workers to continue working in the office, but hospitality workers must face a Christmas rush without even having social distancing as a buffering measure?

“Over the past year, workloads have sky-rocketed due to understaffing, meaning fewer staff to deliver the same service standards. Understaffing has a quick fix – improving pay and conditions – but the industry bosses ignore that. In addition, our members have to endure endless abuse from customers and covid-deniers when we try to explain the restrictions to them – meaning lower tips and impacting mental health. 

“With the Omicron variant now detected in Northern Ireland and news channels suggesting a January lockdown, we urge employers and the Stormont Executive to have needs of workers in struggling and public-facing industries, like ours, at the forefront of their minds. We are calling for the reintroduction of social distancing, strengthening of the mask mandate, increasing a Covid bonus/hazard pay and a 100 percent furlough and sick pay scheme.”

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