Ambitious long-term strategy needed to sustain shipbuilding capacity and legacy at Belfast shipyard

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UK government trawling the globe looking for bargain basement bids, no doubt paying bargain basement wages

May 11th: Susan Fitzgerald, Unite Regional Officer for workers at Harland & Wolff demanded that the UK government ensure that the one billion procurement budget for three new fleet auxiliary vessels go to sustain the future of UK shipbuilding, in particular that at Belfast.

 “One hundred years ago Belfast was one of very biggest and best shipbuilding centres anywhere in the world and the skills of workers here were in high demand. Unfortunately today those employed at the shipyard survive on sporadic contracts for their jobs. Wages have stagnated for years and workers are angry and fearful that without an urgent intervention their jobs and indeed the future of the ship yard hang in the balance.

“The industry lacks any clear long-term strategy for growth. For decades, consecutive governments both in Westminster and in Stormont have shown little to no ambition or interest for our ship building sector yet the skills base and commitment of workers here is second-to-none. It is vital that government now gets serious about securing a future for shipbuilding in Belfast and backs that up with real investment.

“The contract for three new fleet auxiliary vessels for the Royal Navy is a case-in-point. The government plan to spend one billion pounds on vessels but have no strategy for shipbuilding in Northern Ireland. 

“The current government policy under which one quarter of all spending on naval fleet will be going overseas by 2020 amounts to little more than a policy of defence ‘on-the-cheap’. We note the call from Jeremy Corbyn for this work to be given to yards in the UK where the workers have a long record of delivering world-class vessels to budget and on-time. If the government are going to spend millions on defence they shouldn’t be trawling the globe looking for bargain basement bids, no doubt paying bargain basement wages to the workers engaged on such contracts.

“If the historic Samson and Goliath cranes which are emblematic of Belfast are to mean anything more than a remembrance of times past, we need an ambitious strategy for the shipyard. Such a strategy must be underpinned with public investment – particularly in the construction of turbines necessary to deliver a step-change in wind-based offshore renewables and other pro-environment initiatives as well as the construction of vessels for which the yard was created”, Ms Fitzgerald said.

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