Belfast Telegraph

Harland and Wolff administrators provide extra time to explore rescue options

A temporary unpaid lay off of the workforce will continue while potential commercial deals to save the shipyard are assessed.

Employees of Harland and Wolff during their protest at the gates of the shipyard in Belfast (Liam McBurney/PA)
Employees of Harland and Wolff during their protest at the gates of the shipyard in Belfast (Liam McBurney/PA)

Extra time has been allowed to the administrators of Harland and Wolff in Belfast to secure a positive outcome for the shipyard.

BDO Northern Ireland announced the continuation of a temporary unpaid lay-off of the workforce to facilitate ongoing “positive discussions” with would-be buyers.

The workers are no longer getting paid but their contracts of employment remain unbroken.

The arrangement had been set to end on Friday morning but BDO has now issued a statement saying it would be extended, with no set deadline.

"This is welcome news and is a demonstration of the work which is ongoing to secure a positive outcome for the shipyard," said the east Belfast MP Gavin Robinson.

"Over the last few days I have continued discussions with government  in relation to what support can be offered at Westminster. On Monday I will also be meeting with the administrator along with Arlene Foster to discuss all the options that are on the table as we move forward," he said.

"We are facing a very difficult situation without any ‘magic wand’ solution but we must continue to explore all options."

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Harland and Wolff workers and former colleagues at the shipyard gates as the occupation of the site continues (PA Media)

Famed for building the Titanic, the shipyard went into administration last week after its troubled Norwegian parent company, Dolphin Drilling, failed to find a buyer.

"Since our appointment, there have been positive discussions with interested parties for the sale of the business as a going concern," said BDO Northern Ireland.

"It is hoped that these discussions may result in credible offers.

"In light of this, the administrators, in tandem with the unions and workforce, are intending to continue the unpaid temporary lay-off initiated on our appointment beyond today.

"The limited retained team of workers are continuing to maintain the site and assist the administrators in carrying out their duties."

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Administrators BDO says it has had ‘positive discussions’ with potential buyers for the troubled shipyard (Liam McBurney/PA)

Denise Walker, senior organiser with the trade union GMB, said the news meant there is "some light at the end of the tunnel" for Harland and Wolff workers.

"By underwriting the security of employment of this workforce, our unions have done what government had utterly failed to do," she said.

“They are still not getting paid, but at least they know their jobs – on existing terms and conditions – will be safe when a buyer is found. And we are confident a buyer will be found.

“This is a testament to the workers’ bravery and tenacity in occupying the yard non-stop for nearly three weeks.”

The shipbuilder, whose famous yellow cranes Samson and Goliath dominate the Belfast skyline, employed more than 30,000 people during Belfast’s industrial heyday but that workforce numbered only around 125 when the company went into administration.

The business had diversified away from shipbuilding in the last two decades and until recently had primarily worked on wind energy and marine engineering projects.

Known around the world for building the doomed White Star liner Titanic, which sank on its maiden trans-Atlantic voyage in 1912 after striking an iceberg,  Harland and Wolff was one of the UK’s key industrial producers during the Second World War, supplying almost 150 warships.

Its workers, who have occupied the site 24/7 for nearly three weeks as part of a high-profile campaign to save their jobs, have called on the Government to step in to rescue the operation through nationalisation.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been urged to follow the lead of the Scottish Government, which has intervened to save the Ferguson Marine shipbuilding yard in Glasgow.

The Government has resisted calls for direct action at Harland and Wolff, claiming its troubles are a commercial issue.

PA

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