Workers vowed to continue occupying Belfast’s Harland and Wolff shipyard yesterday (August 5) as the company went into administration.
Putting the firm into administration risks the end of 160 years of shipbuilding at the yard, whose iconic yellow cranes, Samson and Goliath, dominate the Belfast skyline.
Steel worker and Unite rep Joe Passmore said the occupation – which began last Monday – will continue for “as long as it takes” to save Harland and Wolff, where 130 people are employed.
He said, “The workforce have told us they wish to continue with the occupation of this plant until such times as we find a way to continue shipbuilding and heavy industry in Belfast.”
Unite regional organiser Susan Fitzgerald warned that administrators will not be able to enter the site without the assent of the workers.
She said, “No-one moves on to that site or off that site unless the workforce, who are running that site, agree to it.
“That’s been very polite and civilised today but Harland and Wolff is now under the control of the workforce there.
“We met with the administrators, it was civilised in that we listened, we wanted an update, we put the position of the workers to them.
“We put a number of very viable options… to the administrator so it’s incumbent on the administrator to take those suggestions fully on board and we are hopeful of hearing back from them soon.”
Yesterday afternoon shadow chancellor John McDonnell paid a visit to the workers occupying the yard.
He said Boris Johnson had failed his first real test as prime minister by refusing to secure the yard’s future.
“We know this is a viable concern, we know the government has naval contracts it can put here to ensure the long-term future,” McDonnell said.
“We know there are contracts out there but it just needs support from the government.
“I am saying to Boris Johnson very specifically he can’t stand on the sidelines.”
Unite is calling on the government to put Harland and Wolff into the hands of the official receiver and underwrite the firm in a similar arrangement to that undertaken with British Steel.
This would enable the shipyard to continue operating as a going concern, sign contracts for on-going work and give confidence to customers, suppliers and contractors to commit already allocated work to the shipyard, including a refit contract worth over £22m with Terranova.
Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner said, “Harland and Wolff has the largest dry dock in the UK and the only one big enough to fit our new Royal Navy aircraft carriers when they need to come in for maintenance and repairs.
“Additionally, the shipyard works with BAE on the Dreadnought submarine programme, has an important part to play in the building of the Royal Navy’s new Type 31e Frigates and is central to the UK consortium’s bid to build the navy’s fleet solid support ships.
“There is no reason why Harland and Wolff cannot have a bright future. All this proud workforce needs is a temporary boost from government and a commitment from UK ministers that they will back UK shipbuilding by block building the new fleet solid support ships in yards across the UK.”