Staff tell of 'devastation' as fifty jobs under threat at Dunnes Stores food dept in west Belfast
Sinn Fein MP Paul Maskey blasts closure as "unacceptable"
Dunnes Stores' employees have told of their "devastation" as they learned that the grocery department of the store in west Belfast is earmarked for closure with the proposed loss of fifty jobs.
The company has informed staff at the Park Centre food hall that it is at risk of closure.
Workers were called for a meeting on the future of its store at 4pm.
One member tweeted: “Dunnes Stores to make announcement on future of its stores in Park Centre West Belfast, this community need investment not disinvestment”.
Tearful employees told of their devastation at the news outside the store today, some of whom have worked at the store for 30 years.
Unite Union slammed the way the jobs announcement was delivered to employees while Sinn Fein MP Paul Maskey called for "clarity" for workers branding it "unacceptable" and "no way to treat a workforce".
Fighting back tears a female staff member told the BBC: "Devastated, where do you start? People have been there for 30 years they are being told the store's closing and that was it.
Another said: "I'm here 27 years and we've been working here, we went through The Troubles and everything here serving the public.We are now left with mortgages and bills, told a few weeks before Christmas that's it over. We are left we don't know what is going to happen."
Sinn Fein MP Paul Maskey said he had tried to contact the company over the past two weeks on any possible announcement.
He said: "The news that 50 jobs are to go with the closure of the Dunnes Stores food court in the Park Centre is a blow for the workers and the local economy.
“There were fears over the past number of days that such an announcement would be made.
“I have contacted Dunnes Stores to speak with me as the local MP for two weeks now on any possible announcement. They failed to meet with me.
“We now have a situation where 50 people have lost their jobs with little clarity around the terms, conditions or timeline. This is unacceptable and no way to treat a workforce.
“I am calling on Dunnes Stores management to meet with me in the very immediate future in the interest of protecting the workers' rights and ensuring adequate arrangements are put in place surrounding the proposed redundancies.”
In February, Dunnes shut its store at the Connswater Shopping Centre in east Belfast.
It was the second hammer blow for the Belfast shopping centre, coming just a few weeks after Tesco announced it was closing.
It also closed three other stores this year, including those in Antrim, Ballymoney and Portadown.
Unite Regional Officer, Sean Smyth, expressed his union’s disappointment with the job loss announcement and manner of its delivery
He said: "Dunnes stores has announced that it proposes to close its food hall in the Park Centre, Belfast with the loss of approximately fifty jobs due to adverse trading conditions.
"This is a cruel blow which will mean dozens of workers face redundancy in the weeks before Christmas.
“This job loss announcement is a severe setback for an area which is classified as highly disadvantaged under all deprivation measures. Those who face redundancy include full-time and part-time workers from every background, including students.
“Dunnes approach in making this job loss announcement, in which they have refused to engage with Unite who represent workers involved, demonstrates their poor regard for the right to collective representation. This has led to the situation where over the past four or five weeks the entire workforce at Dunnes in the Park Centre have been left to deal with mounting anxiety over the uncertainty hanging over the site. This is a disgraceful situation.
“Even at this late stage, we call on management to engage positively with us on their proposal with a view to mitigation and securing the best possible outcome for those affected."
Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA) Chief Executive Glyn Roberts said it has been a "truly dreadful" week for job losses in Northern Ireland.
He said: “Our thoughts are with the fifty Park Centre Dunnes staff and their families at this difficult time so close to Christmas”
“With Park Centre, Ballymena and potentially eighty more retail job losses in Banbridge, we need to see the Executive redoubling their efforts to support our private sector in this difficult time”
SDLP west Belfast MLA Alex Attwood expressed his regret that fifty jobs are underthreat in the month before Christmas.
He said: "This is very bad news not least in the month before Christmas. The Park Centre has long served the people of west Belfast and work is now needed to attract new tenants.
“West Belfast can ill afford the loss of any jobs. Indeed it has suffered for years from under investment and a failure to do all that should have been done to attract jobs of all sorts into the constituency.
“This latest news must galvanise all to rectify the failure of so many to do what is necessary for the people across the constituency.”