The decision by Belfast City Council’s 21stFebruary Strategic Policy and Resources Committee by 10 votes to 6 to outsource the entire leisure estate to a ‘Not For Profit’ organisation sent alarm bells ringing throughout the City Council workforce. This decision would have effectively meant the privatisation of Belfast’s ten leisure centres.
At the full council meeting on March 3rd, councillors were forced to defer a decision as a result of public campaigning by staff, unions and campaigners. With local elections looming public protests and raising public awareness, Belfast City Council has chosen to put off making a decision until after the elections in May. Instead, the council agreed to allocate £10,000 to the trade unions representing the 370 leisure centres staff to come up with an alternative plan for the delivery of leisure facilities which contains spending restrictions. This though is a dangerous ploy to get the trade unions to sign up to a different way of making cuts to leisure services. There should be no cuts to services. The trade unions should now prepare to fight any ultimate proposal to outsource services and/or attacks staff’s jobs and terms and conditions.
Unite members have been critical of their union officials’ apparent invisibility throughout with NIPSA apparently being the more active, especially dealing with the media. Unite leaders have conceded that mistakes have been made but have assured us that they are working away behind the scenes. Unfortunately they have not explained to our members that the possibility of industrial action with other unions has been discussed to use as leverage against the councillors. This is an important part of strategy at this point, especially in the run-up to local elections. Councillors will not want this type of disruption now which may explain why some are moving in the direction of in-house. The unions should also consider putting up candidates in the elections to put further pressure on. Taking on the parties on Belfast City Council on this issue would be a good starting point for a new socialist alternative as it effects working class communities across the board.