JC Campbell helps out ‘Newry on Ice’ workers

January 13, 2014

‘Newry on Ice’ employees have welcomed the news that they are finally set to receive some financial help after a special package was put together between car dealership JC Campbell and Newry and Mourne District Council to ensure all staff get paid before the start of next month.

The good news came at the end of a difficult week for the 30 young employees of the failed Winter Wonderland event after they were left high and dry when the management team behind the festive flop packed up and left without paying its hard working staff.

The disgruntled team staged a protest last Tuesday demanding payment from the Dublin based company who had made such an unmitigated disaster of what was originally billed as a Winter Wonderland extravaganza for the city, capable of drawing an  estimated 100,000 visitors from across Ireland.

Back in November, businessman Philip Gaffney, the man behind the event, painted a magical picture of a Christmas fantasy, promising a state-of-the-art ice rink, a big wheel, a drive-in cinema, crazy golf and Santa’s workshop.  Apart from the ice rink, none of the other anticipated features materialised and as opening day drew closer a pricing row broke out when extortionate ice-skating prices were revealed.

A series of postponed opening days followed before the “extravaganza” finally limped open only to be met with less than rave reviews and a general “thumbs down” from many disappointed visitors.

As the project wound down in the first weekend of the new year, employees were left out in the cold as managers deserted the sinking ship leaving their staff penniless as they awaited three weeks’ pay.

Newry and Mourne District Council came under heavy criticism for supplying the Albert Basin site to the southern company, ‘Dublin on Ice’, free of charge in exchange for what they expected would be a lucrative boost to the local economy from the projected number of visitors to the Christmas carnival.  The council were also  accused of failing to carry out proper checks on the company before agreeing to the event and were called upon to assist the exploited employees in their plight.

Trade Union representatives NIPSA also lent their support to staff, warning ‘Dublin on Ice’ directors that “they would not set up a business anywhere on this island” if they did not hand over what was owed to their young team.

Finally, last Friday, car dealership JC Campbell, in conjunction with Newry and  Mourne District Council, came to the rescue, with a package they put together to help pay the beleaguered employees.

Just days before, the Rostrevor dealership was forced to repossess a Citroen car which had originally been put up for raffle at the event, when organisers failed to pay for the vehicle.  Now it seems they are to provide a lifeline for employees with an offer to contribute £100 for every vehicle sold from Friday 10th January until the end of January towards the salaries of the Newry on Ice staff.  With average monthly sales of between 60 – 80 vehicles per month, it is hoped that a substantial portion of salaries, if not all, may be covered by the generous deal.

Newry and Armagh MLA, Dominic Bradley, who campaigned on behalf of  the employees, was first to welcome the news of the generous offer.

“I and my colleagues, have been liaising with officials from Newry and Mourne District Council, the young people and trade union representatives from NIPSA to help them get the wages they are owed”  said Mr Bradley.

“I welcome the fact the Council have now put together a package with the help of the private sector, which I believe is one business, and I congratulate the young people and NIPSA trade union officials on the very effective campaign which they mounted in a bid to get the wages originally due to them.

“This whole debacle is a salutary lesson that proper checks need to be carried out on companies which engage with public bodies to ensure they are dependable and responsible, in order that we do not arrive at a situation like this again and, I will be asking the Council to outline additional measures which they will employ in the future to make sure of that.”

The Mayor of Newry and Mourne District Council, Councillor Michael Ruane, paid tribute to J.C.Campbell for their kind fundraising offer,

“I am always amazed at the community spirit which is shown in the Newry and Mourne area during times of crisis and I congratulate J.C. Campbell (N.I.) Ltd on their very generous offer during the month of January 2014.   The fundraising will alleviate the hardship for over 30 young individuals from throughout our district who were dealt such a severe blow during the Christmas period by the non-payment of their salaries by the Newry on Ice Company”

Meanwhile a spokesperson for the staff of Newry On Ice said employees were “overwhelmed” by the generosity of JC Campbell.  In a statement released on their Newry on Ice Unpaid Workers facebook page the spokesperson said the realisation that workers were not going to get paid for the long hours they had put in over the Christmas period had been a “cruel blow” for all of them’ especially the students who were relying on their wages to return to college.

The statement continued,

“We would like to thank Newry Trades Union for their quick interception when the news broke that we were not going to get paid and also Newry and Mourne District Council in supporting us in finding a way forward to get what we are owed.

“It is with great generosity that JC Campbell Rostrevor have offered to put £100 from every car sold in January towards the Newry on Ice workers’ unpaid wages. It is very comforting to know that there are people and organisations out there that are willing to help and guide us through trying to achieve what is rightfully ours and for this we are forever indebted but we will keep fighting until we get what we are owed.”