Harland and Wolff workers ask for meeting with PM in last-ditch effort to save shipyard
Trade unionists fear a yard which built the doomed Titanic liner and helped define the city’s industrial past could close as early as this week.
Workers at an under-threat shipyard in Belfast have asked for a meeting with the Prime Minister.
Harland and Wolff staff are protesting at the main gate to the historic shipyard, where the ill-fated liner Titanic was built, as its survival hangs in the balance.
Harland and Wolff workers say they now control the gates to the plant. pic.twitter.com/FWS7xSQpAZ— Rebecca Black (@RBlackPA) July 29, 2019
They have vowed they will not leave until a resolution is found to enable a shipbuilder which once employed tens of thousands of workers to support Allied forces during the Second World War to remain open.
The workers have called for the Government to nationalise the shipyard and vowed to stay at the gates until a solution is found.
A Save our Yard banner has been hung from one of its famous cranes which dominate the city’s skyline.
The Harland and Wolff yard, which helped define the city’s industrial past, has been up for sale amid serious financial problems at its Norwegian parent company.
A spokesman for Harland and Wolff said the company would not be making a statement at this stage.
Unite regional secretary Jackie Pollock said the workers are preparing to remain on the site overnight.
He said the workers want to welcome Boris Johnson to the shipyard, explain the role it could still play in British shipbuilding and outline immediate business prospects.
“It should not be forgotten that only three years ago, Harland and Wolff supported approximately 2,500 jobs directly and thousands more indirectly,” he said.
“Neither local management, nor the yard’s owners, nor the British Government have so far been prepared to take control of the situation and ensure that Harland and Wolff does not end up liquidated and sold off, bit by bit, to the highest bidder.
“This evening, workers are making preparations to spend the night in the yard and are steadfast in their determination to save their jobs and Northern Ireland’s skill base.”
East Belfast MP Gavin Robinson said he shares the concerns of the workers, describing the next number of days as “critical for the shipyard”.
“We are working for a solution so I understand entirely their frustration. They see time is running out, they see the clock running down, they want answers and, in fairness, they deserve them,” the DUP MP said.
However, he did not back union calls for nationalisation.
“I am not sure it is the immediate solution. It’s not the one you would jump to first. There have been talks with intended bidders.
“There is a huge opportunity there to see reinvestment in shipbuilding and to see a renaissance in that industry. But we have an immediate difficulty this week, there are suggestions the company could go into administration on Wednesday and the unions are looking for help.”
GMB union regional organiser Michael Mulholland urged political leaders to “act now to save the future of Harland and Wolff”.
“Following many hours of discussions, there still appears to be no light at the end of the tunnel for these embattled workers,” he said.
“Shipyards such as Harland and Wolff or Ferguson are vital to any country’s commercial and defence infrastructure.
“However, it seems Mr Johnson has yet to realise this and is prepared to allow Harland and Wolff to sink by default.
“The protest by workers today is an indication of their determination not to allow this to happen.”
The yard employs around 130 people and works on wind energy and marine engineering projects.
Anger at the gates of Harland and Wolff today as the historic shipyard faces closure. Workers are urging government to nationalise it pic.twitter.com/W1gduWFpVi— Rebecca Black (@RBlackPA) July 29, 2019
Harland and Wolff is one of the defining companies of Northern Ireland’s heavy industry heritage and was founded in 1861.
It completed the Titanic in 1911.
Its two huge cranes dominate the east Belfast skyline but its peak period as an employment powerhouse was during the Second World War.
The last ship built there was the Anvil Point in 2003.