Northern Ireland shopping centre bosses slammed as staff told they will be charged for parking
Poll: Do you have to pay for car parking where you work?
Shop workers at a one of Northern Ireland's biggest retail outlets have hit out after bosses announced they will be charged for parking from next month.
Abbeycentre revealed the change of policy on Facebook yesterday, explaining parking would still be free for up to four hours.
But it added anyone wishing to stay longer should park in allocated spaces and will need to pay £1.50 per day.
A separate letter to store managers at the Newtownabbey shopping centre confirmed the move affected workers.
It said: "The tariff applies to both customers and staff who use the car park."
Faith Clarke wrote on Facebook: "I work in Abbeycentre and can I say that most of the shifts for any staff in this place are four hours, meaning no matter what, every single member of staff will have to pay to go to work.
"Everyone is saying how £1.50 isn't going to break the bank, but at the end of the day the money all adds up, and could be used on a better cause!
"Not to mention, most of us get monthly pay.
"What happens if we are running low at the end of the month before pay day?
"I don't think it's right for us staff to stress about getting parked, pay for a ticket and running to work in case we are late! I think its a joke."
Emma Bruce wrote: "You say it's to make it easier for the customers... what about the staff who work in the shops them customers wish to go to?! So now I have to pay to go to work!
"Where is the loyalty to the staff who keep the centre running? Very disappointing."
Amy Forte added: "What about employees? We now have to spend £9 a week for parking if we work six days! Absolute joke."
Antrim and Newtownabbey Alliance councillor John Blair agreed. "I was shocked when I was contacted by a number of people who work at Abbeycentre about the introduction of car parking charges which will, obviously, have financial implications for staff as well a customers," he said.
"It hardly needs pointing out that many staff taking a hit from these charges are those who work part-time, at minimum wage levels and on zero-hours contracts.
"Whilst this move gives the council a chance to promote the free parking available in our town centres at Glengormley, Antrim, Ballyclare and elsewhere, it does, however, seem a little mean - to say the least - given the serious implications for those who work and shop at Abbeycentre."
The new system, which comes into effect in mid-February, will be run by Smart Parking Ltd, an independent car parking provider. Fines of up to £100 will be issued to anyone who flouts the new rules.
Kieran Smyth of retail workers' union USDAW said he was "gravely concerned" and would be speaking to Abbeycentre bosses about excluding staff members from the new charges.
"Many of these people have no choice but to drive to work because of their shift patterns," he said.
"Early morning and late night shifts for deliveries and things like that mean they have to park there, and will have to pay out simply to go to work.
"We're gravely concerned about this as it will impact on them enormously, so we'll be speaking to the employers at the various stores we deal with and the Abbeycentre itself to see if any arrangement can be made for shop workers."
Abbeycentre manager Mark Stewart said: "We have listened to our shoppers and are aware of the car park congestion issues, especially around holiday periods.
"ANPR (automatic number plate recognition) parking solutions are commonplace in shopping centres throughout NI.
"The car park solution will free up spaces quicker, making it easier for our shoppers to find a spot. The proposed wider car park improvements will result in a safer, greener environment for all of our road users."