THERE was a defiant mood in the Westville Hotel on Tuesday evening as more than 200 BT workers demanded that Union officials fight for their jobs as they detailed their reaction to the news that BT could close the Enniskillen site later this year – with more than 300 jobs based at the site potentially on the line.

A meeting was called by the Communication Workers Union (CWU) to inform its members of the details of the situation and to answer any questions they may have.

Those present told the panel of their “hurt” and “disgust” about the news, which has caused shockwaves across Fermanagh and Enniskillen, where BT is one of the largest employers.

There were heartfelt pleas from workers, many with more than 20 years of service to the company.

One man described his hurt as he claimed a meeting was called with “15 minutes’ notice and the announcement was made [online] on Microsoft Teams”.

Another worker added that she was not present for the meeting, and instead found out about the proposed closure of the site via Facebook when local Press shared reports.

The panel was formed by Karen Rose, President of the CWU and Deputy General Secretary-Elect; Stephen Albon, CWU National Officer; Mark Feehily, Northern Ireland Telecoms Branch Secretary and staff member in BT Enniskillen; and Erin Massey, CWU NI Regional Secretary; and was Chaired by Joe Fee, Branch Chair of the Communications Workers Union.

Beginning the meeting, Mr. Feehily – who described himself as a “proud member of the Enniskillen call centre site” – told those gathered: “I know you want answers to your questions.

“This is about your response to what the company has said. This is very devastating for you guys, the town in general, and me and my wife, who both work there.”

There were murmurs of agreement and applause when one BT worker described how they felt like they had a “gun to their head” over the voluntary severance scheme offered to staff last week, which they have until March 8 to decide if they wish to take it.

Ms. Rose told those attending: “We are going to fight this closure. The reason we are going to fight this is it’s the right thing to do.”

She described the situation across the UK where other sites have also been announced as potential closures, such as Greenock outside Glasgow, and Liverpool.

She said: “The company has offered them [Greenock and Liverpool workers] jobs in other call centres. This [Enniskillen] is different to the other announcements made last week.

“We see this as different because of the lack of alternative employment, or even within BT.

“I think there are unique circumstances to give us the opportunity to leverage the company.”

She and other panellists called for unity among workers as all present noted that individuals will need to make decisions surrounding the severance deal based on their personal circumstances.

Stephen Albon noted that Enniskillen staff “had no drop in performance during home working” amid the Covid-19 pandemic, when he monitored performance, and he assured members that he would be travelling to Enniskillen to give them updates.

Erin Massey said that the announcement during a cost-of-living crisis was “unexpected”, “unwarranted” and “unfair”.

She added: “The economy is going to be decimated in Enniskillen if these jobs go.”

Speakers from the floor called for a committee to be formed on the issue from among CWU members in BT Enniskillen.

Others asked around the potential for homeworking, given the site is one of the reasons BT has indicated a potential closure.

A panellist replied to questions from the floor, stating: “We are going to fight to keep the jobs in Enniskillen; we will fight tooth and nail to keep people in employment.

“We have talked retaining, reskilling, remote working, smart working – these are options we think should be explored.”

Solidarity came from MLAs and local councillors from Sinn Féin, the Democratic Unionist Party, the Ulster Unionist Party, the SDLP and the Alliance Party, as well as from fellow trade union members with Jill Weir, Unison rep and Fermanagh Council of Trade Unions, stating: “Do not make it a self-fulfilling prophecy.

“Don’t play BT’s game ... they need to be held accountable by our MLAs. If you fight, you may not always win, but if you don’t fight, you will always lose.”

A fellow trade unionist and former BT worker, Lawrence Huston, came to the meeting from Ballymena to offer solidarity, and called on action from politicians, from councillors to MLAs to Ministers.

He said: “Some of our MLAs are here tonight and I thank them for that. As regards a fight, these people [Stormont politicians] have had a good holiday.

“This is a fight for the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister.”