Dunnes axes 50 Belfast jobs with closure of Park Centre food hall
The closure of a Dunnes Stores food hall with the loss of 50 jobs has been branded a "devastating blow" just weeks before Christmas.
Dunnes staff at the Park Centre in west Belfast were hauled into a meeting at 4pm yesterday, where they were told that the grocery business is to close.
It's understood some employees who were told the bad news had been working for the company for almost 30 years.
The Park Centre is losing its key anchor tenant, and there are now fears over shopper numbers dropping as a result of the closure.
Politicians and union representatives said they had been kept in the dark about the closure.
It's understood even the Park Centre itself didn't know about the job losses until after the meeting with staff yesterday afternoon. There are now fears for jobs at other Dunnes stores in Northern Ireland, following the closure of four outlets already this year.
Sinn Fein MP Paul Maskey said the company - which he had tried to make contact with for the last two weeks - had "treated staff, elected representatives and west Belfast with contempt".
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"It's the anchor tenant. The fear for us all is the footfall falls and other traders may want to move elsewhere," he said.
"There are dozens of shops in the Park Centre. Each are doing good business. It's up to the Park Centre to attract another tenant in."
Both the Unite and Usdaw unions raised concerns over how the news was broken.
Michala Lafferty, of Usdaw - which represents hundreds of Dunnes employees - said it was a "devastating" blow for staff.
"We've just heard as well there is a threat to other stores. It's not looking good," she said.
"We want them to do the right thing by their workers and bring the trade unions into consultations."
And Sean Smyth of Unite said: "Dunnes Stores has announced that it proposes to close its food hall in the Park Centre, Belfast with the loss of approximately 50 jobs due to adverse trading conditions. This is a cruel blow which will mean dozens of workers face redundancy in the weeks before Christmas."
SDLP councillor Tim Attwood said "no answers" were given to employee questions during yesterday's meeting.
In February, the Dublin-based retailer shut its store at the Connswater Shopping Centre in east Belfast. It also closed three others, including Antrim, Ballymoney and Portadown.
Responding to the latest round of job losses, SDLP MLA Alex Attwood said: "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."
Glyn Roberts, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (left) said: "This has been a truly dreadful week for job losses in Northern Ireland.
"Our thoughts are with the 50 Park Centre Dunnes staff and their families at this difficult time so close to Christmas."
Dunnes Stores also has a homeware unit at the Park Centre which is not affected by the job losses.
Pre-tax profits at the main Northern Ireland and UK arm of Dunnes Stores last year decreased by 18% to £11.3m after a further slide in revenues.
The company did not respond when asked to comment on the cuts.