Workers at Regina Coeli House in West Belfast were sacked on Friday afternoon following a seven week ‘work in’ to save the facility. Their redundancy was scheduled for the coming Sunday 27 February.
According to Unite, the news came despite assurances during a meeting with the Chair and a trustee of the management committee at a disciplinary hearing on Thursday that the workers would not have any decision before next week.
Susan Fitzgerald, Regional Coordinating Officer for Unite, condemned the decision:
“This is a despicable decision. It adds insult to injury. It highlights yet again the scandalous approach of the management committee. Yesterday sitting face-to-face with management I raised that Unite’s fear is that they intend to sack our members to avoid paying redundancy. They were outraged by this suggestion. Today our members have been dismissed two days before their redundancy.”
She continued: “This afternoon a letter was delivered to each of these five women workers sacking them with immediate effect. Our members have only acted upon their duty of care to stay and support the residents. By contrast, the management committee have been nowhere near the hostel in the last six weeks. Nor have they once enquired as to the well-being of the homeless women residents in the hostel, one of whom remains, due to the lack of appropriate alternative accommodation.
“Today’s decision will only redouble the determination of our members to fight for respectful treatment by the management committee and to save this invaluable service.”
Regina Coeli House has provided a refuge to homeless and vulnerable women since 1935. The facility is owned by the Legion of Mary but is funded by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) through its Supporting People programme. It is the only facility offering exclusively female accommodation to support those suffering from addition, mental health difficulties, homelessness and abuse. According to Unite, over the course of the pandemic, the number of residents at the 21-bed facility was rapidly run down, with vulnerable residents being transferred to mixed-sex accommodation despite their needs.
Having received advanced notice that they would be made redundant on 27 February, staff began a 24-7 ‘work-in’ occupation of the hostel in January to avoid the remaining residents being forced to leave.
The union met with officials from the Department for Communities in January to present the case for the Legion of Mary transferring ownership to the NIHE.