Anger and distress over 300 Driver and Vehicle Agency job cuts
Distressed staff at Northern Ireland's Driver and Vehicle Agency (DVA) have spoken of their disgust after being told they were going to lose their jobs by email.
Around 300 workers face the axe following a decision by the Government to centralise all licensing services in Swansea, Wales.
Operations will cease in July and all local motor tax offices are expected to be completely wound down by the end of the year.
The decision was taken by the Transport Secretary Stephen Hammond, who said it would provide better, quicker services while saving £12m a year.
In Coleraine, Co Londonderry – which will be hardest hit by the loss of 235 jobs – employees were left reeling yesterday morning after they received an email from DVA boss Paul Duffy saying all services were being relocated to Wales.
It read: "It is with regret that I write to inform you that ministers in the Department of Transport are expected to announce early this morning that the full range of vehicle registration and licensing services will be made available to motorists in Northern Ireland from July 2014 and the remaining transactions will be centralised at the Driver and Vehicle Agency (DVLA) in Swansea."
Mother-of-three Karen McAllister (38), from Ballymena, who has been based at the Coleraine agency for three years, said she received the email while she was on a work phone call.
"That was the biggest insult of all. It would have been nice if someone could have given us the bad news in person," she added.
Eileen Bonner, an employee of 35 years, whose daughter Erin (30) also works for DVA, said they were both stunned and angry.
The 60-year-old Coleraine woman added: "I think sending the email was wrong; it devastated everybody."
Politicians – all of whom had backed a campaign to retain the DVA services in Northern Ireland – expressed fury over the job losses.
Northern Ireland's Environment Minister Mark H Durkan, who is currently in America on a trade mission, said that the Prime Minister had questions to answer.
"David Cameron is talking on the one hand about the need to rebuild the Northern Ireland economy, yet with the other hand ripping jobs out of it.
"That's double-speak of the lowest standard," he said.
Mr Durkan also said the timing of the Westminster statement was "bizarre" as it coincided with the US investment mission, which includes First Minister Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness, the Deputy First Minister.
Leading a chorus of condemnation, East Londonderry MP Gregory Campbell said he was "exceptionally disappointed" but not surprised by the news.
SDLP MLA John Dallat said the workers were "devastated, feel abandoned, let down and trampled upon".
Sinn Fein MLA Cathal O hOisin said the employees had been "unceremoniously dumped on the dole queue".
Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance (Nipsa) union assistant secretary Ryan McKinney said that the workers were devastated.
"They have put their faith in this campaign and expected that the coalition Government would listen to the representations made by staff representatives, by politicians and by the local business community, and unfortunately their faith in the coalition Government was not well-founded," he said.
There are seven other motor tax offices in Northern Ireland, in Armagh, Ballymena, Belfast, Downpatrick, Enniskillen, Derry and Omagh.
'Being told by email was the biggest insult of all, the news should have been given to us in person'
It started out like any other normal day for workers at Northern Ireland's Driver and Vehicle Agency. But all that changed, brutally and irrevocably, when a distressing email dropped into their inboxes shortly after 9am.
The agency's boss, Paul Duffy, had sent out an "announcement on the future of vehicle licensing in Northern Ireland".
And, after the mere five minutes it would have taken most people to read the page-long missive, they learned their jobs were gone.
Karen McAllister was one of the casualties.
She was on the phone to a customer when she received Mr Duffy's announcement in which he told employees: "I know that, like me, you will be hugely disappointed by this news."
For the 38-year-old Ballymena mother-of-three, disappointment doesn't cover it. Besides, she's been here before.
"I've been based at the DVA in Coleraine for the last three years after being redeployed from my previous Civil Service job in Ballymena," she said.
"I'm absolutely gutted by the news. They say they're going to try to find us work elsewhere, but I can't afford to travel so I'm probably going to have to give up my job unless I get something local.
"Being told of this by email was the biggest insult of all. It would have been nice if someone could have given us the bad news in person."
Crying members of staff were seen standing in corridors; others sat in shocked silence, heads in hands, worried about their futures.
And, in the fraught aftermath of a sombre emergency meeting at the Coleraine DVA headquarters yesterday, tensions spilled over at one point into a kerfuffle between a union representative and one of the workers.
Many of the workers gathered there said they had been left in limbo – and their fears are genuine.
As Mr Duffy's email said: "I undertook to let you know the decision as quickly as possible, even though at this stage, the full details of the implementation of the decision are not clear."
In fact, all staff really know is that Stormont ministers have promised to find them other Civil Service jobs elsewhere. But, for many, travelling will be just too expensive an option or perhaps not even possible.
Father-of-two Mervyn Nicholl (56), from Portstewart, has worked for DVA for more than 30 years. He was heavily involved in the campaign that was backed by all Northern Ireland's political parties to save their jobs.
"We're completely devastated and worried about the future," he said.
"I'm not in a position to relocate. Most staff affected by this are on annual salaries of between £18,000 and £21,000.
"By the third week of any month none of us have any surplus cash," he said. "If we're relocated to some other office in Northern Ireland, where is the money going to come from for £200 or more in extra travel expenses?"
Meanwhile, Eileen Bonner (60) and her 30-year-old daughter Erin are both victims of the job losses in the Coleraine office.
"I've worked here for almost 35 years; I'm devastated," the mother-of-three said.
"I didn't think it would ever come to this. That's me and my daughter both potentially out of work.
"Sending an email was wrong. It devastated everybody."
Transport Secretary Stephen Hammond – who took the decision to cease operations in Northern Ireland and centralise all licensing services in Swansea, Wales – said the changes would provide better, quicker services while saving £12 million a year.
But that will be of no comfort for the hundreds of local families who are now paying for all this with their futures.