HMRC redundancy scheme “ignoring equality legislation”: SDLP

November 25, 2013

By Christine Keighery

Last week’s announcement by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) to slash 250 jobs across four of its Northern Ireland offices has been lambasted by local SDLP MLAs Dominic Bradley and Karen McKevitt who accused the department of “riding roughshod over” and “ignoring equality legislation.”

The implementation of the voluntary redundancy scheme will mean the closure of the Newry office resulting in 134 job losses locally. A further 24 voluntary redundancies will affect HMRC staff in Enniskillen, 77 in Londonderry and 5 in Belfast.

HMRC has blamed an increase in customers choosing to do business with them online for the job cuts as it reduced the need for physical sites.

Speaking after a meeting with union officials and local HMRC staff, Mr Bradley highlighted the fact that the proposed job cuts will hit only Nationalist areas west of the Bann.

“Newry, Enniskillen, and Derry and those affected will predominately be nationalist and female.  HMRC has engineered this move to avoid living up to their Section 75 (NI Act) duties to carry out an Equality Impact Assessment,” said Mr Bradley.

“It is totally unacceptable that HMRC should seek to ride roughshod over important legislation which seeks to ensure equality of treatment for all.  HMRC is in danger of damaging its reputation as being a fair employer representing all communities in Northern Ireland through its current approach to the proposed office closures.  Such behaviour cannot be tolerated and will be fiercely opposed by all right thinking people here and beyond.”

SDLP colleague Karen Mc Kevitt said, “The Executive has hosted Investment Conferences in an effort to create new jobs and here we have a Whitehall department slashing long standing public service jobs in areas where they are sorely needed.  We need jobs to underpin the peace process and a department which is seen to be ignoring equality legislation relating to religious and gender discrimination certainly does not help.  We will fight tooth and nail to ensure that these jobs remain in Newry.”

SDLP councillor Connaire McGreevy also warned of the  devastating impact the job losses would have on the “still fragile economic recovery.”

The councillor accused the Government of using the public controversy generated by high profile political issues involving the Attorney General and revelations regarding an alleged rogue British Army death squad to “conveniently try and bury” the issue.

He added: “The way the proposed closure plan was fed into the media was disgraceful. It was a cynical manipulation of the lives of 134 workers and their families in the Newry area.”

Mr. McGreevy said the closure of the office would cause particular problems for those construction and building companies that operate on both sides of the border.

“The Newry area HMRC office for generations has been a vital bridgehead between both jurisdictions in terms of providing advice for the construction industry.

“The fact is that more than in terms of any other part of the island of Ireland we need to have professionally trained revenue staff available to help firms cope with complex taxation issues.

“Our border location makes that service facility a vital tool in terms of sustaining Newry’s capacity to compete as a supplier of building trades staff.

“Traditionally workers in the construction industry have had to work on both sides of the border. In recent years that has been even more commonplace.

“It has meant that they have had to cope with a huge raft of technical taxation matters that required the help and support of the HMRC staff.

“We are thankfully at least starting to look forward to a healthier economic climate. The building sector both in the North and in the Republic will therefore attract more workers back into the employment sector.

“It is vital that we have a fully functioning revenue and taxation office in Newry that can cope with that expected employment upsurge,” said Mr McGreevy.

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin MP for Newry and Armagh Conor Murphy revealed plans to travel to Westminster along with his colleague Michelle Gildernew, and SDLP MP Mark Durkan, to press the UK government to reconsider the job losses.

Mr Murphy said the news of the planned redundancies had come  “out of the blue” for workers who, he added, had been told to agree a voluntary exit scheme by December 18th, with the HMRC adamant that there is no opportunity for redeployment.