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Hospitality and tourism workers protest at Stormont over 'opportunistic lay-offs'

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A socially-distanced protest has taken place at Parliament Buildings

A socially-distanced protest has taken place at Parliament Buildings

A socially-distanced protest has taken place at Parliament Buildings

Economy Minister Diane Dodds is facing calls to take action against Northern Ireland employers using the job retention scheme to make "opportunist lay-offs" before it ends.

Hospitality and tourism workers voiced their concerns at a socially distanced protest outside Parliament Buildings at Stormont yesterday.

Organised by the Unite union, the demonstrators also highlighted an alleged failure by ministers to engage with workers while developing its post-lockdown economic recovery plans.

As part of a UK-wide week of action by hospitality and tourism workers, members of Unite handed in a letter to Mrs Dodds demanding an urgent meeting on the need to secure jobs and skills.

Belfast barista and bartender Amy Ferguson told the protest that those working in the hospitality sector have been left feeling "incredibly let down and completely dehumanised over recent months".

She said: "The fact that we are human beings who require an income to survive but who also have real fears about virus transmission has not been considered in any meaningful way by the Executive.

"I am currently furloughed and to even get that in the first place I had to engage backwards and forwards with my employer for weeks with them coming up with excuses to justify hanging me out to dry," Amy added.

"Now, I don't even know whether or not I'm going back to a job in September when they are stopping my furlough, meaning I've been having to budget 80% of a minimum wage youth rate to try and make it last as long as possible."

Unite hospitality organiser Neil Moore said members like Amy felt it was necessary to bring their demands to Stormont given the failure of politicians to listen to their voice.

Research commissioned by the union estimates that between 10,000 to 15,000 hospitality workers face the threat of redundancy in the coming weeks.

"What we are seeing is a knee-jerk reaction to offload staff before the end of July which is obviously in line with the end of the job retention scheme in October," he said. "We believe there are companies that are using that to pay the full 12 weeks statutory notice.

"It's not right or moral that companies are using a job retention scheme funded by the taxpayers in order to offload staff and restructure in this industry."

Acknowledging that the tourism and hospitality sectors had been hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic, Mr Moore added: "That's why we need the politicians to step in to fund and save our tourism sector but that cannot be at the cost of workers' jobs and skills."

Mr Moore claimed that employers' considerations were being taken into account by Stormont decision-makers while workers' views were being ignored.

He also raised concern at a lack of union representation on Stormont's tourism recovery steering group.

Among the MLAs who lent their support to the protesting workers were SDLP members Justin McNulty and Sinead McLaughlin, vice-chair of the Assembly's Economy Committee and Alliance's Andrew Muir and John Blair.

Belfast Telegraph