Belfast leisure centres: Councillors vote to outsource

The Unite and Nipsa unions protested ahead of Friday's meeting at Belfast City Hall

A Belfast City Council committee has voted in favour of outsourcing the operation of city leisure centres, despite union opposition.

The committee voted in favour of the changes by a margin of 10 to six.

The vote paves the way for major change that will see up to 300 leisure centre staff move to a new employer.

Unions protested outside the meeting, fearing the move could lead to redundancies and changes to hours and conditions.

The DUP's Gavin Robinson said the change was necessary to improve the running of leisure centres and underpin a £105m refurbishment programme.

"A Belfast Leisure Trust will not only secure the jobs, basic terms and conditions and pensions of existing employees, but will be a good employer for anyone joining the trust in the future," Mr Robinson said.

"Sustaining the business is key to protecting existing jobs, providing career development opportunities, and enabling the creation of new jobs and apprenticeships.

"Currently we have professional, passionate people watching on as customers take their business elsewhere due to poor facilities."

Sinn Féin voted against the change, but if the votes stack up in full council as they did in committee, the changeover will happen in the autumn.

Unions fear the council plans may threaten jobs.

Bumper Graham, of trade union Nipsa, said: "We accept a need to modernise, but there is no need to create a new model. This could affect a significant number of staff."

Ten leisure centres are currently operated by the council in the city.

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