Carillion collapse threatens hundreds of Northern Ireland jobs as infrastructure giant goes into liquidation
Housing Executive trying to get firms to take over its contracts
The Northern Ireland Housing Executive has appealed for the help of other private sector firms during an emergency meeting as the collapse of Carillion puts hundreds of jobs here at risk.
Northern Ireland workers face the threat of "large scale redundancy" after staff working for infrastructure giant Carillion were sent home yesterday, after it entered liquidation - six months after it issued a profits warning.
It has three major contracts with the Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE), worth around £35m a year, for maintenance.
Last night, the NIHE warned that "there may be some disruption to routine services in forthcoming days".
Carillion employs approximately 500 staff here, with around 230 working for the NIHE. Across the UK, around 20,000 employees now face an uncertain future.
Unite said, following a meeting with staff, that members were "instructed to go home" when they came to work.
It's understood the NIHE called in a series of other maintenance firms to an emergency meeting yesterday - asking whether they could take on some of the contracts being dealt with by Carillion.
A spokesman for the Housing Executive said: "We are currently seeking clarification on the position of Carillion in light of the announcement this morning.
"We are currently meeting with all our response and heating contractors to put in place contingency arrangements should these be required."
Asked why it took Carillion on with fresh contracts at the end of last year, despite a profits warning in July, it said it "met all financial thresholds and criteria and the Housing Executive had no reason to exclude them from the procurement process or awarding of contracts".
Yesterday, Unite's regional secretary Jackie Pollock said: "Unfortunately, our members have reported that when employees presented for work this morning they were instructed to go home.
"Agency workers were told that they should return to their employment agency for further instructions and those who drove vehicles were instructed to remove all personal possessions and return them.
"It is clear that despite those assurances from the Housing Executive we are facing the threat of large scale redundancy."
Talks were held throughout the weekend between Government ministers and company officials in a bid to keep Carillion in business, but they broke up on Sunday evening without a deal.
Earlier this month the Belfast Telegraph revealed the firm was trying to sell off tens of millions of pounds in Northern Ireland Housing Executive contracts along with the rest of its business across Ireland.
PwC, which is handling the liquidation of Carillion, said: "Unless told otherwise, all employees, agents and sub-contractors are being asked to continue to work as normal and they will be paid for the work they do during the liquidations."
Aside from NIHE contracts, it also employs workers with Power NI and the Ministry of Defence.
Carillion had been struggling under £900m of debt and a £587m pension deficit.
It's also the contractor behind the HS2 rail link in England.
According to the GMB union, workers will "continue to be paid staff until the end of January and they will be working closely with us on the future".
Micheal Mulholland of the GMB union wants the workers to be transferred to other firms, through Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) regulations (TUPE).
That's where workers and potentially any other liabilities are transferred to a new employer, which takes on the work.
And Unite is now demanding that Carillion workers on NIHE contracts are employed directly by the social housing body.
"The direct labour organisation (DLO) already provides social housing maintenance services in some parts of Northern Ireland and on three previous occasions when contractors went into liquidation in the past, the approach of taking workers back into the DLO has worked well," the union said.
Speaking in the House of Commons yesterday afternoon, Cabinet Office minister David Lidington said the taxpayer would not be called upon to bail the firm out.
Documents seen by this newspaper showed the company had prepared a deal for companies to take on all the current Housing Executive contracts. The work, worth around £35m each year, could be valued at more than £400m if some deals are extended as far as 2042.
Consultancy firm EY as part of its 'Project Lion' approached suitable businesses to take on the contracts in Northern Ireland.