Triumphant Harland and Wolff staff on Thursday (October 3) walked back into work at Belfast’s historic shipyard after a nine week occupation that saved the firm.
The workers, who garnered international attention for taking over the yard to prevent it being asset stripped after it went into administration, are now employed by energy firm InfraStrata.
InfraStrata, which is building a gas storage plant off the Irish coast, said it will retain all 79 staff still working at the yard and has plans to increase the workforce to 400.
Harland and Wolff senior shop steward Joe Passmore said, “This is a historic day for us and we’re incredibly proud of what we’ve achieved. We’re determined that this company is going to be great again.
“This workforce has worked incredibly hard to get this and we’ll not let this opportunity go. This is a new future for us and we know our new owners have the same vision that we have. I can’t wait to get back to work now.”
The occupation had been difficult at times, Harland and Wolff worker David Wilson admitted.
Wilson, who has worked at the firm since he was 16, said, “We’re absolutely delighted. The occupation was hard work. There were a lot of ups and downs and delays. It did upset life for a while, but looking back it’s been worth it. If we hadn’t have done what we did, Harland and Wolff wouldn’t have existed in its current state.
“The object first and foremost was to save our jobs, but at the end of the day it’s to give the young men and women of Belfast and Northern Ireland the opportunities that I had. To come in, learn skills, meet brilliant people and have a future.”
Unite regional coordinating officer Susan Fitzgerald praised the workers for their vision and determination to secure the yard’s future.
She said, “All along they said it wasn’t about them, that they were merely custodians of this shipyard, this place of skills and craft, and they were holding it for future generations.
“This yard today is here for one reason only, because of strength and self-sacrifice of the Harland and Wolff workers supported by their trade unions.”
Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner echoed Fitzgerald’s comments, saying the workers were inspiring.
He said, “Inspiring not just for themselves, their families and their communities, but inspiring for working people across the whole of the UK. They never gave up.”
Today (October 4), Harland and Wolff workers have negotiated a day off to attend a rally in Ballymena in solidarity with Wrightbus workers who are fighting for the future of the bus manufacturer, which went into administration last week.