Hospitality workers have voiced concerns about employers using the job retention scheme to make “opportunist lay-offs” and pay wages during statutory notice periods.
A small number of hospitality and tourism workers held a socially distanced protest outside Parliament Buildings on Tuesday calling on Economy Minister Diane Dodds to take action.
The demonstration organised by the Unite union also highlighted an alleged failure by Stormont to engage with workers while developing its post-lockdown economic recovery plans for the region.
Unite representative Neil Moore said research commissioned by the union indicated 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.
“We believe that’s not right and that’s not moral that companies are using a job retention scheme funded by the taxpayers in order to offload staff and restructure in this industry.”
Mr Moore acknowledged that the tourism and hospitality sectors had been hit hard by the pandemic.
“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,” he said.
He raised concern at a lack of union representation on a tourism recovery steering group at Stormont.
Mr Moore claimed that employers’ considerations were being taken into account by Stormont decision-makers while workers’ views were being ignored.
A Department for the Economy spokesperson said it was vital businesses were supported to stay afloat.
They said: “This is why the minister was quick to establish a £25,000 grant scheme to support businesses in that sector and which has paid out over £72 million to almost 3,000 businesses.”
This scheme augmented other support measures from the Executive and UK Government, including the job retention scheme and a rates holiday for businesses in the hospitality and tourism sector until the end of the financial year.
The spokesperson added: “The minister led efforts to reopen the tourism and hospitality sector earlier than originally planned, and worked to secure the change in social distancing to one metre, with appropriate mitigations in place.”
Diane Dodds also established an Engagement Forum chaired by the Labour Relations Agency, which included Unite, to develop practical guidance for workplaces, and subsequently set up a Tourism Recovery Steering Group to lead the planning for the recovery of the tourism and hospitality sectors.
Unite is also represented on Hospitality Ulster’s recovery group.
Support for over 2,000 people to achieve qualifications through the local universities and further education colleges has been brought forward to help people who are furloughed or have been made redundant to upskill.