Concentrix workers take to street as fears grow over job security
Union leaders have said they are optimistic a deal can be done to save the jobs of hundreds of call centre workers in Belfast.
The employment security of up to 350 employees of Concentrix have been cast into doubt after HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) terminated its contract with the US-owned company.
Concentrix, which employs more than 1,800 people across a number of sites in Belfast, had been tasked with reducing claimant fraud in the benefit and tax credit system - but HMRC announced earlier this year the contract will not be renewed.
The move came after the Concentrix was accused of incorrectly withdrawing tax credits from hundreds of claimants, while it has also been claimed it answered only 10% of calls on some days.
Since losing the contract, Concentrix has already let go 150 temporary workers.
The Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) staged a rally outside a Concentrix building in Belfast city centre yesterday afternoon to show support to the employees whose future with the company is unclear.
Speaking at the protest, which was attended by up to 50 people, Gayle Matthews, regional secretary of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) Union, said: "We're here in solidarity with the workers of Concentrix.
"There are really two victims here - the claimants who have been badly affected and the workers who were simply following orders from HMRC.
"We're delighted that Concentrix has said it will engage with this and we will be talking to them on an ongoing basis.
"From another perspective, we are hopeful that we can save these jobs.
"The work that has been done by Concentrix has now to be done in-house by HMRC and we would say that the Concentrix employees should be transferred to HMRC to carry out that work.
"There is legislation in place for that to happen and we would ask HMRC to make a decision on this matter as quickly as possible so that people can make plans for their future."
ICTU Assistant General Secretary, Peter Bunting, said: "We are raising concern about the real value of outsourcing - companies such as Concentrix do not save the taxpayer money."
Mr Bunting also said the UK government needs to answer questions relating to how Concentrix earned the HMRC contract.
And he added that there are also serious questions for the Executive after the firm received £3.5m in grant aid from Invest NI in 2014.
A spokesman from HMRC last night refused to say whether workers from Concentrix will be offered employment.
He said that HMRC has redeployed 150 staff to ensure customers can get through to advisers and resolve any issues about their benefits claim. A spokesman from Concentrix said the company's employees are a top priority and they are doing everything to minimise any impact on them.
He continued: "Concentrix remains committed to Belfast as a base for our European operations."