Belfast Telegraph

Harland & Wolff workers vow to continue to occupy shipyard as it enters administration

Workers have vowed they'll continue to occupy the famous Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast after administrators were called in on Monday.

The GMB union said workers have said they're going nowhere as administrators BDO, who were appointed to run the company after it ran out of money, are expected to apply for a court injunction on Tuesday.

“Harland and Wolff has been betrayed by Boris Johnson and the Conservatives' complete lack of a plan to protect our manufacturing jobs," said Michael Mulholland from GMB.

"The future of Harland and Wolff is more than a ‘commercial issue’ that the Prime Minister can stand by and do nothing about. But we will not give up on this famous shipyard.

"The occupation will continue - and our battle will continue."

The Belfast shipyard Harland & Wolff went into administration at 5pm on Monday, putting 120 jobs at risk and signalling the end of an era for Northern Ireland industry.

Directors at the stricken company appointed business advisory firm BDO to run the company after it ran out of money. 

Workers at the plant were served with redundancy notices this morning.  They have been staging a sit-in protest since last week to raise awareness of the risks of the company going out of business.

It had been put on sale by its parent company Fred Olsen – now Dolphin Drilling — in December.

It has been in business since the early 1860s, and built some of the world’s most famous liners, including the Titanic and its sister ships the Olympic and Britannic.

The site employed 30,000 people in Belfast in its heyday (Rebecca Black/PA)
The site employed 30,000 people in Belfast in its heyday (Rebecca Black/PA)
Harland and Wolff workers hosted a family fun day

Speaking to the BBC's Good Morning Ulster programme on Monday, the DUP MP Gavin Robinson said his party is "pulling all the political levers" it can.

"It seems increasingly unlikely that a solution will be found in the short term and the company may indeed have to go into administration," he said.

He said the shipyard had asked the government for shortfall funding of £650,000, which would have given the company "breathing space" for the month of August "so that they could explore other options".

"The official advice is that it cannot be done for three reasons: there is no order book at present so the money would be going in with no generation of product or profit; and there was no ability to secure the loans or pay them back; and it would also conflict with state aid rules," he said.

The shipyard workers say they need an investor with a long-term commitment to Northern Ireland.

Meanwhile, dozens of workers and their families attended a family day event at the protest site on Sunday.

Some of the entertainment included face-painting and bouncy castles as workers were joined by their wives, partners, children and grandchildren.

Chris Neill, a security operations manager, has worked at the famous firm for 13 years. He attended the event with partner Sarah Minford and their six-month-old daughter Lacie Neill.

"It's a bittersweet day, we are hoping something will happen," he said.

Despite a deadline of 5.15pm on Monday, which "could be our last day here", Mr Neill said that workers "are still hopeful something will come through".

"I love the place, the experiences it has given me over all this time has been incredible," he said yesterday.

"If tomorrow is the end, I will leave with no regrets.

"There's a lot of lip service from politicians and you would think that it being such an historic company that means so much to the city of Belfast, a solution would be found."

Marcus Kane (47) has worked at the firm for almost six years.

He attended the family day with his wife Julie and their eight-year-old daughter Elise.

He said: "It's been tough on families but it's great to see everyone pulling together in the midst of all that is happening. It's helping take our minds off things.

"It's very unsettling to go out and look for work, I don't know how long it will take to find a new job.

"On the face of it politicians want to help but unfortunately Belfast City Council can only lobby on our behalf. I think come tomorrow it's the last ditch attempt to get the money."

Operations manager Brian Walsh has been working for the firm for seven years. He said: "We are really in limbo. As far as government agencies are concerned we are not getting any help, talk is very cheap.

"All these men have families and they all rely on these wages.

"If this place closes that will be the end of heavy industries here.

"It's sad this won't be here for future generations."

Harland & Wolff's turnover slumped from nearly £67m in 2015 to £8m the year after. In 2016 the company also recorded a loss of £7m. No accounts have been filed by the firm since.

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