The decision to close the Appledore shipyard with the loss of 199 jobs has been met with “anger and dismay” by Unite, who vowed to fight the move and protect members’ jobs.
The devastating news that the 160-year-old Devon shipyard will shut in March 2019 came just days after hundreds marched through the town of Bideford against plans by owner Babcock International to close it.
A petition signed by nearly 10,000 people, which had called on the government to secure future shipbuilding work at Appledore, was handed in at the House of Commons on Tuesday.
Unite regional officer Heathcliffe Pettifer was scathing of the government’s mishandling of the issue.
He said, “The first reaction is one of dismay and anger that such a dedicated workforce at this historic shipyard should face such an uncertain future.
“We feel that the government could have done much more to secure future work for Appledore and that defence secretary Gavin Williamson wrung his hands in true Pontius Pilate fashion when he said it was a commercial decision for the company.
“We are asking for this to be raised as a matter of urgency in the House of Commons.”
Babcock International said a £60m package of work for the shipyard offered by the government was not enough to keep it open and pledged to offer staff new jobs at its Devonport Dockyard, which is 45 miles away.
Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner said the decision was “betrayal” of both the workforce and the local community and vowed the union would fight against the closure.
He said, “Unite will be engaging immediately with the company to secure and protect jobs – and our members’ interests.
“We will continue to fight for the yard’s future and with it opportunities of decent, unionised work for coming generations and skilled apprenticeships.”
Turner added that the government could secure Appledore’s future “at a stroke” by lifting the delay to contract the Type 31e frigate programme and guaranteeing that the Royal Navy’s new fleet solid support vessels are designed and block built in yards across the UK.
“A continued failure by ministers to intervene could lead to the loss of vital shipbuilding skills for a generation and leave a yawning capability gap in the UK’s shipbuilding industry,” Turner said.
“We urge Babcock to think again and for the Ministry of Defence to drop its ideological obsession with international competition and build support vessels for our Royal Navy ships in UK ship yards.”
Meanwhile, Labour’s shadow defence secretary Nia Griffith called on the government to come forward with a plan to support those affected by the closure and to engage with Unite.