Unions call on DUP to challenge Theresa May’s government over failure to guarantee one billion fleet solid support contracts goes to UK shipyards, including Belfast
Workers and their families will be visiting constituency offices of parliamentary representatives to raise demand
One month after the launch of Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions’ Shipbuilding Charter in Belfast City Council, Unite the union and the GMB, have announced the roll-out of a campaign of lobbying to demand MPs raise the issue at Westminster.
GMB Regional Officer for his union’s membership at Belfast shipyard, Michael Mulholland pointed to the historic role played by Belfast shipyard and highlighted its notable absence from the Belfast city deal which was supposed to be about the city’s future.
“Belfast has been building ships since 1791; indeed at one stage we were the biggest shipyard in the world with Harland & Wolff employing thirty-six thousand workers. Sadly due a chronic lack of political ambition, Belfast shipyard has been run-down to the point where there are genuine fears that the Samson and Goliath cranes which define the Belfast skyline might be left as little more than a tourism attraction.
“As an example, the much-touted Belfast City deal which received £350 million from the Treasury didn’t even mention the city’s shipbuilding industry or shipyard once. Yet Belfast can boast one of the world’s best natural deep water harbours and has a workforce with the skills and experience necessary to compete and win at any level.
“We need the UK government to review its decision to categorise the multi-billion Royal Navy fleet solid support and Type 31e Frigate contracts as non-military expenditure. This seems driven by a desire to cut costs as it allows them to send this work overseas. Royal Navy contracts must stay within the UK with Belfast shipyard getting its fair share”, Mr Mulholland said.
Unite Regional Coordinating Officer for shipyard workers, Susan Fitzgerald said that the workers and their families would be challenging local political representatives on their response.
“Shipyards in the UK, including Belfast, have survived despite government policy not with its support. Although the Ministry of Defence tell us that a competitive tender process will guarantee best value, the reality is that this competition is far from being on a level playing-field. Competing shipyards overseas have the full backing of their respective governments and have benefited from considerable state investment while UK shipyards have been starved of such investment since the rise of Thatcherite free market thinking.
“As a result our proud shipbuilding and industrial legacy has been undermined to the point that it faces genuine concerns about the future. No other government would consider bending the rules this way to let the work go overseas allowing their own shipyards to close. Far from representing best value, it is a false economy and threatens to undermine the jobs and skills underpinning the UK shipbuilding sector.
“Northern Ireland’s MPs must stand up for the shipyard workers and local community against this policy. We need to challenge the wider lack of ambition for shipbuilding and our shipyard’s future. Alongside a further shift into wind and tidal renewable energy, securing a fair share of these contracts would support a strategic approach that would secure shipyard jobs and skills for generations to come.
“As part of our #backBelfastShipbuilding campaign, Union members from both Unite the union and the GMB, and their families, will be bringing these demands to the constituency offices of their political representatives, in particular, the MPs. We need to see the current government’s policy on these contracts challenged and overturned on the floor of Westminster”, Mr Fitzgerald said.