Keep up with Armagh i

Plan to close Portadown 999 centre a ‘devastating blow for employees and community’

Alliance says many 'outstanding questions' need to be answered

BT strike
Workers from the Carrickblacker Road site pictured last October, when they striked for the first time ever over pay

There have been calls for clarity for workers at the BT call centre in Portadown after Armagh I revealed on Tuesday that management had begun consulting with staff on closing it and relocating staff.

The British Telecoms Exchange building on the Carrickblacker Road, which has been operational since 1959, is set to close its doors in autumn if the proposal goes ahead.

Its 999 services, directory enquiries, 195 Blind and Disabled and RUK Deaf and Speech Impaired departments are all set to be re-located to the company’s Riverside Tower in Belfast.

The Portadown building will be used for engineering and infrastructure.

Alliance MLA Eóin Tennyson described the news as “a devastating blow for the employees and for the local community”.

“The staff have had their initial consultation but there remain many outstanding questions which need to be addressed.

“For example, variable start times and twilight shifts will make reliance on public transport to Belfast impossible for some. I am engaging with BT to obtain clarity on outstanding issues for staff and to ensure they will be protected as far as possible in any transition.

“Many of these staff are on the frontline answering 999 calls, 24 hours per day, 365 days per year. We owe them huge thanks for their service, and I will continue to support them in these uncertain times.”

Portadown Alliance representative Emma Hutchinson said: “My full solidarity is with the workers affected. We will continue to engage with BT, and most importantly, the staff, to get the best possible outcome for those affected.

“We fully understand the importance of having investment in our local towns and villages. We also know the benefits that having a local workforce brings to businesses. It is disappointing, to say the least, to know of another large corporation pulling out of smaller towns in favour of the city.”

One worker who contacted Armagh I said people who do not want to move to Belfast, or feel unable to, will be faced with a very difficult choice of whether to look for a new job.

He said: “We are a 24-hour centre and some of the late night and early morning shifts aren’t suitable for travelling up and down to Belfast, particularly on public transport.

“People are upset because they can’t travel to Belfast. Their kids are at school or they just work 16 hours.

“Some of the shifts change as well, so you could be working until 11pm at night and then have to be in the office for 10am the next day.”

A BT Group spokesperson said: “As part of efforts to have world class workspaces for colleagues and to give our customers the best service, we are bringing colleagues together in fewer, better and more modern offices.

“We are consulting with colleagues and unions on proposals to move desk based colleagues from our Portadown Telephone Exchange to the newly refurbished and state of the art building at Belfast’s Riverside Tower.

“Belfast is a strategic long-term location for BT Group and will allow our Portadown colleagues to benefit from the latest modern technology, the fastest connections and flexible workspaces.”

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