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Unions remain hopeful jobs can be saved as iconic firm Harland and Wolff enters administration

The firm only needs to remain afloat for a few more days until a buyer is found, unions say.

Harland and Wolff workers listen to union officials from Unite and GMB today
Harland and Wolff workers listen to union officials from Unite and GMB today
Image: Liam McBurney/PA Images

UNIONS BELIEVE THERE is still a chance for jobs to be saved at the iconic shipbuilders Harland and Wolff, after it entered administration earlier today. 

The company was set to file for insolvency at the High Court in Belfast, with accountancy firm BDO appointed administrators.

The moves come after Dolphin Drilling, the Norwegian parent of Harland and Wolff which filed for bankruptcy in June, failed to find a buyer for the Northern Irish industrial giant.

The shipbuilder, whose huge yellow cranes have towered over the Belfast skyline for decades, employed more than 30,000 people in the early 20th century but now has only 130 workers.

A group of them protesting at the shipyard every day for the past week voted yesterday to continue their occupation of the site, calling on the government to intervene.

They emerged from a meeting chanting “save our shipyard” before confirming the outcome of the vote.

“The workforce have told us they wish to continue with the occupation of this plant until such times as we find a way to continue shipbuilding and heavy industry in Belfast,” Joe Passmore, a steel worker and union representative, said.

Speaking to Belfast Live, union reps said that the firm needs to remain afloat for just a few more days for a buyer to be confirmed as its new owners.

Unite senior organiser Susan Fitzgerald said: “Either the Government intervenes and keeps Harland & Wolff going or the taxpayer will be left footing the bill. They will be the ones paying these workers’ statutory redundancies, their dole.

There’s going to be £10.8 million in wages taken out of the local economy, and that’s before you even start looking at the supply chain. The alternative is they help these people until a contract worth £70 million is signed and see a boom in the economy as more than 1,000 people with good highly skilled jobs bring wages into the local economy. This is a very simple economic argument.

John McDonnell, finance spokesman for the Labour Party in Westminster, visited the shipyard site and claimed Prime Minister Boris Johnson had failed the workers in his first real test since taking power last month.

“We know this is a viable concern, we know the government has naval contracts it can put here to ensure the long-term future,” he said.

However, a British government spokesperson said Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith had held stakeholder meetings since taking up the role last month but no “viable” options for the shipyards’ future had emerged.

“He is speaking to partners… on the next steps to help those affected,” the spokesperson added.

Smith today “had made it clear that he will continue to do everything he can to secure the future of this historic site”. 

As well as building the doomed Titanic, which sank in 1912, Harland and Wolff supplied almost 150 warships during World War II.

It has since moved away from shipbuilding and was until recently working mostly on wind energy and marine engineering projects.

With reporting from AFP

About the author:

Sean Murray

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