A work-in occupation by staff working at Regina Coeli House in Belfast enters its seventh week. As UniteLIVE highlighted in a feature last month, the workers launched their action to prevent the planned closure of the facility – which is the only women’s hostel providing support and accommodation to vulnerable women in Northern Ireland.
On Monday (February 21) a delegation from Unite met with solicitors representing the management committee of Regina Coeli House over letters issued to workers threatening them with legal action if they continue their ‘work-in’.
Unite General Secretary Sharon Graham restated her union’s demand that management withdraw immediately the legal threats to the workers and residents.
“It is completely disgraceful that women workers, members of my union, have been issued with papers by their employer threatening them with legal action,” she said. “The behaviour of this charity is unconscionable: they have not only threatened employees and a volunteer but a vulnerable resident with legal action. We demand the immediate lifting of these threats.”
Unite has also written to the management committee of Regina Coeli House to request they share a report which they have claimed identifies £400,000 in urgent repairs are needed to make the building safe.
Unite Regional Secretary Jackie Pollock explained the significance of this report.
“No one has seen it – as we understand, not even the Legion of Mary who own the building – and yet this report is being used to justify the management committee’s decision to shut Regina Coeli House and make our members unemployed,” he said.
“The existence and the contents of this report are highly contested. Unite has repeatedly called upon the management committee to share the document with us or Northern Ireland’s Labour Relations Agency; if what the management committee say is true, the LRA should then be able to confirm the veracity of their claims.”
Unite is scheduled to meet Communities Minister, Deirdre Hargey, next Monday (February 28).
Speaking ahead of the meeting, Unite Regional Equalities and Women’s Officer, Taryn Trainor said, “Deirdre Hargey has ultimate responsibility for the provision of vital services such as those for the vulnerable women residents at Regina Coeli House. We are aware of whistleblowing and other cases where damning information was provided to the NIHE and we just don’t understand why it wasn’t acted on.
“Over the last six weeks the work-in by staff to save this facility has won huge levels of popular support locally and indeed around the world. We now need to see those in authority move to save Regina Coeli House, save the jobs of our members and to secure the vital support this facility offers.”
By Donal O’Cofaigh