Belfast Telegraph

Sean Graham bookies facing a financial hit after workers vote for a strike during Cheltenham

By Lesley Houston

A Northern Ireland bookmaker is facing a significant financial hit during one of the biggest events on the horse racing calendar after staff voted to take strike action during the Cheltenham Festival.

Workers at Sean Graham voted unanimously to walk out over what they describe as "poverty pay" and on issues of staff security.

The industrial action involving mostly women is due to take place over two of the busiest days of the world-famous Cheltenham event - Champion Hurdle day and Gold Cup day.

Management at Sean Graham are being urged to reconsider their position over pay and security if they want to avoid the strike on two of its busiest betting dates.

The ballot showed that every one of the 71% of workers who cast a vote was in favour of striking on Tuesday, March 15, which is Champion Hurdle Day, and on Friday, March 18, when the showpiece Gold Cup is run.

Unite official Davy McMurray said: "Following a 100% rejection of a management pay offer which would have left our members on the minimum wage payable under UK law, Unite balloted our members on their willingness to take industrial action.

"The unanimous result in support of taking strike action highlights the strength of feeling among our members and their determination to secure a living wage.

"Unite has repeatedly highlighted issues of concern for our members at Sean Graham bookies, who are overwhelmingly composed of female workers."

He said issues at the heart of the strike included "personal security concerns over the absence of protective barriers" in shops, as well as "the absence of overtime rates or compensation for unsocial working hours".

"Even at this late stage it is not too late for management to avoid unnecessary disruption by bringing forward a living wage pay proposal addressing the legitimate expectations of their valuable staff," he added.

Mr McMurray said staff ran the risk of robbery and other risks to their personal safety.

A Sean Graham shop was the scene of a massacre in 1992 when loyalist terrorists shot dead five Catholics, including a 15-year-old, at its Ormeau Road branch in Belfast.

Nobody from the bookmaker was available for comment last night. But the firm was recently quoted as saying it was keen "to resolve this issue".

A spokesman said: "We have offered to enter into a facilitated mediation process and have made initial contact with the Labour Relations Agency, and we hope Unite will join us in that process.

"We have always put the safety and wellbeing of staff at the heart of our operations.

"Our staff costs have increased above inflation and staffing levels have also increased."

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