Belfast Telegraph

Harland and Wolff workers in protest over closure fears

Allan Preston

By Allan Preston

Shipyard workers said they "took control" of Harland and Wolff yesterday amidst an atmosphere of "anger and exasperation" over the threat of closure.

The gates to the premises were barred and a huge 'Save our Yard' banner was also draped over one of the iconic yellow cranes.

Passing cars beeped their horns in support as the employees demanded action to prevent nearly 130 job losses and for Boris Johnson's government to nationalise the shipyard.

The protest is supported by the unions Unite and GMB, who say the shipyard will be placed into administration tomorrow after a potential buyer backed out.

A spokesperson for Harland and Wolff, which is owned by a Norwegian parent company, said they had no further update on any closure when contacted yesterday.

Susan Fitzgerald, Unite's regional organiser, said: "Workers came back after the weekend and are very conscious just how little time is left until Harland and Wolff goes into administration.

"Once that happens their jobs are gone, they'll leave here and they'll never walk back in.

"There's been some huge efforts made by Unite, GMB and others but the reality is that no political or management solution is emerging."

She called on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to take action.

Steelworker Joe Passmore said there was "extreme anger and exasperation" after efforts to reach agreement with management had failed.

Shipyard workers stage a protest outside the gates of Harland & Wolff yesterday
Shipyard workers stage a protest outside the gates of Harland & Wolff yesterday

"We've pleaded with politicians from all parties to come down and support us, to either get us money or re-nationalise us as they did in Scotland," he said.

"They just seem unable to help us. They hide behind civil servants, they hide behind Stormont and they just seem to be sitting on their hands.

"We had to go back today to tell our workforce that's it, there's no future and we're closing on Wednesday night and we're all unemployed.

"They were furious, so we've decided to take matters into our own hands and we've taken control of this company," Mr Passmore continued.

He said this meant controlling access to the premises, which will continue around the clock until a solution is found.

He added: "We've no intention of doing anything illegal, if the police try to move us on we'll try our best to cooperate with them.

Shipyard workers stage a protest outside the gates of Harland & Wolff yesterday
Shipyard workers stage a protest outside the gates of Harland & Wolff yesterday

"But we are going to keep shouting and make sure they stop ignoring us and the working people; they're going to have to."

Paul Beattie, Harland and Wolff's health and safety manager, said: "The frustrating thing is that there's work out there as we need our government to make a decision on naval contracts.

"All yards out there are going to get a slice of that, how sad would that be to go into administration and be no longer in existence before the announcements are made."

Mr Beattie said it was vital the company was given more time to find a new buyer.

He added: "Really this is a cry for help. On July 31 when the company runs out of money and the gates close, that's us finished, that's our future over."

GMB regional organiser Michael Mulholland said it would be ironic if Mr Johnson's first act as Prime Minister was to let the shipyard "sink by default".

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