BBC News

Belfast Primark fire: Staff 'will be paid'

Published
Related Topics
  • Belfast Primark fire
media captionA cordon remains in place around the charred exterior of the Bank Buildings

Staff at the Primark store in Belfast city centre which was destroyed by a major fire will be paid this week but have not received certainty beyond that, a trade union has said.

Much of the interior of the historic Bank Buildings on Castle Street has fallen in after Tuesday's huge blaze.

The fire service said there is "still a risk" the building could collapse "in all or in part".

Crews are expected to remain at the scene tonight and into Thursday.

However, the operation is due to be scaled back.

Structural collapse

The Fire Service has said that there "continue to be small pockets of fire within the building and a 45m (148ft) exclusion zone remains in place" but added that the exterior of the building "remains structurally intact".

Area commander Aidan Jennings said Belfast City Council and Primark's owners have installed a new structure to help support what's left of of Bank Buildings and there had been been further collapse within it.

He added that on Thursday morning they'll be trying to get businesses back open and reduce the cordon.

A spokesperson said: "We are continuing to work closely with engineers from Belfast City Council to determine the structural integrity and safety of the building.

"Once this has been completed a fire investigation will commence into the cause of the fire.

"In conjunction with our partners in Belfast City Council and the PSNI we have been facilitating escorted access for business owners in the local area who are affected by the incident to enable them to access and secure their properties."

Primark said it is "fully committed to supporting staff during this difficult time".

'Amazing support'

After a meeting between bosses and staff on Wednesday, the company said it is "continuing to work with the relevant authorities to determine the cause of the fire".

A spokesperson for the retailer said: "The welfare of our colleagues remains our most important concern and we are fully committed to supporting them during this difficult time.

"Our management team in Belfast are meeting their colleagues over the next few days to provide them with the necessary support and information.

"We would like to thank everyone for their amazing support during this very challenging time for all concerned."

image copyrightPA
image captionThe clock at the top of Bank Buildings was one of the features destroyed by the flames
  • Primark store 'at risk of collapse'
  • History of Belfast's Bank Buildings
  • In pictures: Primark building destroyed

It is believed that more than 350 people worked at the store, which was undergoing a major refurbishment and extension that was estimated to cost £30m.

'No long-term answers'

The Usdaw trade union said it had a "very positive meeting" with Primark's management on Wednesday and was told firm answers about workers' futures would be given next week.

media captionThe landmark building was gutted by the fire within a matter of hours

"All options are being explored by management to retain their staff, to retain that loyalty and their service," said Usdaw's Michaela Lafferty.

"We don't have long-term answers - the company has a short-term solution and that is this week nobody has lost their job and everybody will receive their pay."

media captionMuch of the interior of the historic Bank Buildings on Castle Street has collapsed after a fire

A 45m (148ft) police cordon is in place around the building.

Support with rates

Castle Street is closed from Queen Street to Royal Avenue.

Land and Property Services (LPS) is encouraging businesses who have been impacted by the fire to contact them to discuss support available for rates.

A spokesperson said: "During this period, LPS is willing to discuss extended payment arrangements with affected businesses. Ratepayers may also be eligible for the hardship relief scheme."

What are the employees' rights?

A trade union representing workers has said that Primark will pay employees their wages this week before reviewing matters next week.

It remains unclear what the long-term future holds for staff and whether it will be possible for them all to be redeployed.

Guidelines from the Labour Relations Agency (LRA) state that "an employee who has been put onto a period of lay-off or short-time working for four consecutive weeks or six weeks in a 13-week period may be eligible for a redundancy payment".

Citing legislation from 1996, the LRA notes employees "must be paid a guarantee payment" if laid off because of "a shortage of work of the kind they are employed to do, or any other occurrence affecting the normal working of the business e.g. floods, power failures".

"The payment is limited to a maximum of five days in any period of three months," it adds.

To qualify for payment, the worker must not "refuse suitable alternative employment" and have at least one month's continuous service.

image copyrightPA
image captionThe fire spread rapidly through the buildings during Tuesday afternoon

Firefighters battled the flames throughout the day and overnight into Wednesday after the roof and floors collapsed.

'Building at risk'

No-one was injured in the blaze and it is not yet clear how it started.

image copyrightPA
image captionStaff acted quickly to get evacuate the store when the fire broke out, said Aidan Jennings

Structural engineers have been inspecting the building amid fears it could collapse.

They are expected to make a decision on whether its famous sandstone facade can be preserved.

Praise for Primark staff

Mr Jennings added: "We've had significant collapse within that front part of the structure - steelwork and floors have come down - but at this stage the building still remains standing.

"There is a significant amount of twisted steelwork and collapsed floors so the building does still remain at risk."

image copyrightPA
image captionFirefighters are still working at the site and could be there for several days

The extension to the rear of the building, which was nearing completion, has been saved.

Primark's staff deserved praise for getting people out of the store soon after the fire started, added Mr Jennings.

"They quickly evacuated the building - they allowed our crews to focus on the fire and were able to quickly confirm that everyone had left the building."

Belfast City Council held an emergency meeting on Wednesday morning to discuss how it could help staff and other businesses affected by the fire.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

Shops and offices that fall within the cordon remain closed.

Recovery group set up

Belfast Lord Mayor Deirdre Hargey said the city needed to "rally round those who need support now".

"Not only has this impacted on the Primark employees and the business itself but it will have a knock-on effect for neighbouring businesses and city centre retailers," she said.

She added that the council was willing to help Primark "in any way we can should they wish to seek alternative accommodation" in the city centre.

The Belfast Chamber of Trade said the set-up of a business recovery group would "provide information, support and assistance to traders and affected by the Primark fire".

President Rajesh Rana added: "Belfast Chamber is working to collate a list of alternative vacant premises in the city that traders can relocate to on a temporary basis."

image copyrightPA
image captionParts of the roof collapsed after the fire started near the top of the building

Retail NI Chief Executive Glyn Roberts said: "The key message following this meeting is that despite this tragedy, Belfast city centre is still open for business and that it will bounce back from this."

At the scene on Wednesday: BBC News NI's Karen Patterson

Belfast woke up to an image as dramatic as those broadcast across the world last night of one of Belfast's most iconic buildings.

It is a very sorry sight - Bank Buildings is a shell and all of the floors have collapsed.

As I stand at a cordon that stretches around the building there are real concerns about trading opportunities for businesses around the Castle Junction.

All buses operating in and out of the city centre on Wednesday are subject to delays and diversions.

Some staff have spoken of their shock and concern about their futures.

Mary Flynn, from Glengormley in County Antrim, has worked for Primark since it opened in Belfast city centre in 1975 at Queen's Arcade before moving to Bank Buildings.

image copyrightPA
image captionShops and other buildings that sit within the cordon around the building have been closed

She was "devastated" to learn about the fire through a phone call from her niece.

"When I heard I was so sad, so upset... but we're just so glad that all the staff and customers got out safely," she told BBC News NI.

She described her workplace as "a fabulous store with fabulous people - it was like my second home".

Some workers were left without their house keys after they had to leave their belongings in the building as the fire spread.

What is the history of the building?

It was intended it as a bridge to the 20th Century, with a compromise between the classical style of the upper part of the building and the great expanse of plate glass below.

Three bombs exploded in the Bank Buildings in 1975 - a huge fire broke out shortly afterwards and damaged parts of the building.

In 1979, the Bank Buildings was taken over by the Dublin-based group Primark and the store was totally refurbished and the exterior restored to its 1903 glory.

What are the employees' rights?

A trade union representing workers has said that Primark will pay employees their wages this week before reviewing matters next week.

It remains unclear what the long-term future holds for staff and whether it will be possible for them all to be re-deployed.

Guidelines from the Labour Relations Agency (LRA) states that "an employee who has been put onto a period of lay-off or short-time working for four consecutive weeks or six weeks in a 13-week period may be eligible for a redundancy payment".

Citing legislation from 1996, the LRA notes that employees "must be paid a guarantee payment" if laid off because of "a shortage of work of the kind they are employed to do, or any other occurrence affecting the normal working of the business e.g. floods, power failures".

"The payment is limited to a maximum of 5 days in any period of three months," it adds.

To qualify for payment, the worker must not "refuse suitable alternative employment" and have at least one month's continuous service.

Related Topics

More on this story

  • Belfast Primark fire: 'Grave concern' Bank Buildings could collapse

  • Bank Buildings through the years