Belfast Telegraph

Belfast shipyard jobs 'in peril' - H&W may go to wall, union warns

Harland & Wolff shipyard
Harland & Wolff shipyard
Susan Fitzgerald of Unite
Ryan McAleer

By Ryan McAleer

The remaining 130 jobs at Belfast's Harland & Wolff shipyard are "in peril", union leaders have said.

Founded in 1862, the business - once one of the world's biggest shipbuilders - was put up for sale by its Norwegian parent company Fred Olsen Energy in December 2018.

The group, now known as Dolphin Drilling ASA, filed for bankruptcy last month. At the time the Belfast shipyard said its business would continue as usual.

It's understood that a potential bidder has been linked with an acquisition of all or part of Harland & Wolff's operations.

But according to people familiar with the situation, that deal has "gone cold".

Susan Fitzgerald of the Unite Union, which represents the workforce along with the GMB union, said: "The reality is that there was a bidder, who has gone cool, and the clock is ticking down on the company now."

She has said the entire shipyard "could go to the wall".

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It's believed that economic development body Invest NI has been involved in discussions with management at Harland & Wolff in recent days.

In a statement to the Belfast Telegraph, a spokesman for Harland & Wolff said: "The company had hoped to have completed the merger and acquisition process at this stage, but can confirm there are still in negotiation with a number of potential bidders in an effort to transact a sale that achieves the best outcome for all stakeholders."

It's understood that one stumbling block surrounding negotiations is whether the shipyard's workforce will form part of the deal.

In recent years the workforce have primarily worked on offshore wind and marine engineering projects.

Ms Fitzgerald said it would be "crazy" if a potential bidder opted not to take on the 130 staff in "this very skilled workforce, because they will struggle to replicate the skills".

Union leaders have said they believe the only option to save the workforce may be to nationalise the business.

Harland & Wolff's bosses have previously said they hope to be part of the Government's plan to build five new Royal Navy frigates for service in 2023.

"It's very disheartening for the workforce here to be told, that on the cusp of new MoD contracts potentially being released for UK builds, that the yard here and workers here could face redundancy," added Ms Fitzgerald.

"We think it's completely avoidable, but we think there needs to be a Government intervention."

The union leader cited the Ferguson Marine shipyard near Glasgow, where the Scottish Government is drawing up plans to nationalise. "That's the kind of political action that needs to happen here. The workforce is quickly drawing the conclusion that the only way to save the shipyard is to nationalise it now on the basis of lucrative future government work," she said.

"Right now we are saying that the future of the jobs at Harland & Wolff here are in peril. It would be an absolute travesty of history, that right when potentially there are going to be decisions made that could secure thousands of jobs in shipyards right across the UK, that this place could go to the wall."

Belfast Telegraph