Harland and Wolff on the cusp of closing, unions warn
Shipyard has no current contracts and is for sale
Harland and Wolff shipyard could be about to close.
Harland and Wolff, the historic Belfast shipyard which built the Titanic, could close its doors for good as early as next week.
The yard, which has been in business for 158 years, has no current contracts and is desperately seeking a buyer.
Union leaders have warned that the yard, which employs 132 people, has just “days and hours left” unless a new owner can be secured and have called on Boris Johnson, the UK’s new incoming prime minister, to take emergency measures to save the shipyard.
Harland and Wolff’s majority owner, which filed for bankruptcy last month, has been trying to sell the Belfast shipyard since last year.
Industry sources confirm that one Northern Ireland-based company had expressed an interest in acquiring Harland and Wolff and that negotiations had been at an “exclusive and advanced” stage before breaking down.
According to Harland and Wolff management, it is “still in negotiations with a number of potential bidders”.
Union leaders, however, have warned that time is running out for the yard.
Michael Mulholland, regional organiser for the GMB trade union in Northern Ireland, said while there may be potential bidders still in the picture, there was a “severe air of concern” hanging over the yard.
“We need to buy Harland and Wolff some time – the management want the yard sold as a going concern and we are all working to make that happen and to secure jobs at Harland and Wolff in the future. No one wants to see a firesale here.
“But what we need to happen is political intervention at the highest level and unions in Northern Ireland are writing to all political leaders to ask them to get involved. It does not need huge amounts of money to save Harland and Wolff but it does need time, even a week could make all the difference.
“Harland and Wolff had not been bidding for work because it was in a potential sale process, it has no contracts at this time but there is a programme of work it could very quickly win,” Mr Mulholland said.
The shipyard had been hoping that it would be selected to work on new warships for the Royal Navy. The warships will be built in the UK and could both safeguard and help to create thousands of jobs in the sector.
But Susan Fitzgerald, regional co-ordinating officer, with the Unite trade union, said there was a very real possibility that the “gates could be locked” at Harland and Wolff before the UK government awards the contracts for the Type 31e frigate.
“It is incredibly frustrating that all of this is happening at Harland and Wolff just as a decision on the contracts could be imminent. We cannot let this famous shipyard close on the cusp of a decision being made that could secure two to three decades of work in Belfast and also create work for a new generation of apprenticeships in Belfast.
“Harland and Wolff has the largest dry dock in the UK, it is the envy of shipyards across Europe and the UK government must look at nationalising the yard to protect the skills that exist today in Harland and Wolff for the future,” Ms Fitzgerald said.