Angry Red Sky workers in protests over job loss fears
Employees of a maintenance firm at risk of losing their jobs following a huge public row with employer the Northern Ireland Housing Executive have besieged the body’s Belfast headquarters and Stormont in a noisy protest.
Scores of Red Sky Group employees mounted a road |blockade with their work vans, causing large traffic jams at |Adelaide Street in the city centre yesterday.
The firm went into voluntary administration earlier this week after NIHE cancelled contracts with three months’ notice following a probe into the company over shoddy workmanship and other issues. After a brief picket outside the building, workers joined colleagues who had simultaneously descended on Stormont.
There they held aloft posters reading ‘Scapegoats for NIHE’, some calling for help from their MPs, and others slamming Social Development Minister Alex Attwood.
Last year Mr Attwood launched an investigation into the NIHE that was connected to the Red Sky situation. Belfast Sinn Fein councillors, including Alex Maskey and Fra McCann, had raised concerns about Red Sky Group’s work as far back as 2007, while it is understood that community groups had also expressed worries about the quality of workmanship.
Mr McCann said: “It got to the stage where there were so many complaints.
“Community groups in west Belfast were having meetings about what action could be taken against Red Sky and the Housing Executive as long back as two years ago.”
Sinn Fein’s Monica Digney received compensation after Red Sky was sent out by NIHE to remove a partition wall between her bathroom and toilet.
A workman allegedly also poked a hole in a ceiling, where water had pooled, letting it leak into her living room.
“My home was wrecked, I had to decorate every room in the house,” she said.
A spokesman for NIHE said he could not comment further on the Red Sky case.
A spokesperson for Red Sky administrators, BDO, said: “Working with the management of Red Sky our focus is on keeping the business viable and therefore retaining the maximum number of jobs at the company.
“The demonstration by a number of Red Sky employees is not one which was in any way sanctioned by management and the administrators.”
East Belfast MP Naomi Long MP, who was implored by workers at the protest to offer help, said: “Red Sky is a significant local employer in east Belfast and we are extremely concerned at the impact the decision to go into administration will have on those currently employed by the company.”
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Red Sky Group has offices in east Belfast, Scotland and in the emerging economy of India, and works on building, maintenance, electrical and signage work. It has been carrying out maintenance and repair contracts in Belfast and Newtownabbey for the Housing Executive since 2007, but had enjoyed a relationship with the body for more than a decade previously. It is understood that the firm was being paid £7m annually for five contracts. Red Sky had also worked on a branch of McDonald’s in Londonderry and a New Look store in Dorset, as well as installing visitor signage in Belfast. This week NIHE cancelled all contracts with Red Sky Group, which then went into voluntary administration a few days later.