City call centre Ageas Retail rapped as fight to save jobs goes on
Ageas Retail has been slammed for failing to provide details of why it looks set to close its "profitable" west Belfast call centre.
The firm's 200 employees at its Springfield Road office were hit with the shock news last week that their jobs were at risk.
Politicians from the SDLP and Sinn Fein separately met with Ageas, the parent company of insurance providers RIAS and Castle Cover, in a bid to save the jobs during the firm's 90-day consultation process.
Alex Attwood, SDLP MLA for West Belfast, said the firm claimed Belfast was more costly than its base in Bournemouth in England, but refused to offer details on why this was the case.
"They claim that business in Belfast is 20% more expensive than Bournemouth, yet we know, and they evaded answering this question, the employees in terms of revenue generated are more productive than workers in Bournemouth," he said.
"We asked them again and again to explain that and they said that it was commercially confidential."
When contacted by the Belfast Telegraph Ageas refused to clarify this claim.
"They are not giving us the details that are necessary so that we can make a judgment on this and they haven't given the information to Invest NI," Mr Attwood said.
"This does not seem to me to be a fair, proper, transparent way to conduct business, never mind treat the workforce."
Ageas conceded its Belfast operations remain profitable, according to Sinn Fein MP Paul Maskey.
"We met with Ageas and we pushed that we believe they still have a role in west Belfast," he said. "We asked them whether their operation in Belfast is still profitable and they said yes."
Mr Maskey proposed to retrain the workers, with whom it has a 15-year history.
"I do believe that they can have a sustainable future here," he said.
"We think it would be much more economically viable to reskill their staff in west Belfast.
"I do not want to offer false hope, but they did say that they would use the consultation period to look at the proposals put in front of them."
Invest NI also met with the company yesterday to discuss the future of the call centre.
An Invest NI spokesperson said: "During the meeting Invest NI confirmed it would work with the company in whatever way possible as it considers all the options."
A spokesperson for Ageas said: "This is clearly a difficult time for our employees here, and we regret that circumstances have led us to initiate the consultation process.
"We are making every effort to keep employees and local representatives updated on developments.
"The meeting today has been a useful opportunity to explain to local officials and politicians the reasons behind our proposal and how we are planning to support our employees should the change proceed.
"We are keen to listen to local concerns and discuss any alternative business proposals they might have for the site."