STAFF across 14 leisure centres in Belfast have gone on 24-hour strike protesting against pay, pensions and cuts to employee numbers.
A number of staff from Andersonstown and Whiterock Leisure Centre took to the picket line from 7am this morning after Unite union members voted for strike action in a dispute over a pensions guarantee and staffing concerns in their dispute with operator Greenwich Leisure Limited (GLL) who took over the running of the leisure centres in January 2015.
The Falls Leisure Centre in West Belfast and the Loughshore Recreation Centre in North Belfast will be closed with Andersonstown Leisure Centre set to open at 2pm today.
Other centres affected include Whiterock, Ballysillan, Avoniel, Belvoir, Shankill, Olympia, the Ozone and Grove Wellbeing.
Staff from Andersonstown Leisure Centre told Daily Belfast that staff morale is “at zero”.
“I’ve been working in the centre over ten years now,” said one worker. “There are issues that need dealt with in regards to our pensions and the reduction in staff. Staff who took redundancy or left when GLL took over were not replaced. It used to be we would have had seven staff to open in the morning and eight staff at night, now it is only five in the morning and five at night. It’s unacceptable to have to work like this.”
Davy Edmont, Unite officer for workers at the leisure centres, said 97 per cent of Unite members voted for strike action in a dispute over a pensions guarantee and over staffing concerns. He said the dispute centred on casual workers' access to pension schemes and the quality of cover and staffing provided at centres.
A spokesperson for GLL said only 13 per cent of the workforce voted for the strike.
However, Mr Edmont said: "They look at it as a relatively small number, but I would ask them, that being the case, then why is the Andersonstown Leisure Centre shut and not open to the public this morning?"
Katrina Morgan, regional manager for Greenwich Leisure Limited, said the company was open to negotiations.
"The table is open and we're willing to discuss all the issues with Unite as we have done all along and indeed get some more clarity on what the exact issues are because we're still not fully sure what they are," she said.
SDLP Councillor Tim Attwood said he fully supported the rights of workers to withdraw their services as part of industrial action.
“I encourage GLL, unions and workers to engage in constructive dialogue to resolve all outstanding issues,” he said. “Belfast City Council has ambitious plans to radically improve our health and leisure estate through a £105 million investment over the next ten years. The new Olympia Leisure is under way and there are exciting plans to invest £25 million in a new Andersonstown Leisure Centre and £15 million in a new Brooke Centre in the Colin area. We have developed a partnership with GLL, a charitable social enterprise, to operate our centres.
“We want to develop and improve our leisure services for residents across Belfast and maximise employment opportunities for staff.
“I hope all issues are resolved to the satisfaction of GLL, unions and workers.”