Secretary of State challenged over government inaction on Harland & Wolff as trade unionists rally at shipyard gates

Workers photo © Bobbie Hanvey L1004250

Photo – copyright Bobbie Hanvey

Speakers at rally reiterate call for nationalisation and contrast government inaction with leadership shown by workforce and trade union movement

Secretary of State for NI, Julian Smith MP grilled over failure to safeguard jobs at Harland and Wolff and the absence of an ambitious economic strategy at Belfast manufacturing forum

Trade unionists were active on several fronts at the same time in pressing the UK government to safeguard a future for the Belfast shipyard workforce. Unite Regional Coordinating Officer Susan Fitzgerald chaired an Irish Congress of Trade Unions solidarity rally at the shipyard gates at which a range of leading trade unionists spoke.

“Today’s rally demonstrates the support that exists for these workers and their inspirational stand for jobs and skills. When Harland and Wolff went into administration four weeks ago, only these workers and their unions took the bit between their teeth and moved to safeguard jobs and skills – not just for today but for the future.

“The commercial bids received by the administrator so far are both serious and credible and demonstrate that the workforce were right to have confidence in the future. The bidders who are visiting the site and looking around offer not just a fix but the promise of a vibrant future of growing numbers of high-value added jobs. There is now a competition between commercial bidders to buy this shipyard whereas only weeks ago it was being pronounced dead.

“The reality is that we can secure a future where heavy industry can be brought back to Belfast. Northern Ireland’s workers have much more confidence for the future than do the political representatives who failed to bring forward a strategy to grow manufacturing even when the Executive was functioning”, Ms Fitzgerald said.

At the same time as the rally was proceeding at the shipyard, a meeting of the Belfast Manufacturing Forum was being convened at City hall where Unite Regional Coordinating Officer, Davy Thompson, challenged directly the current Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Julian Smith over his government’s inaction in the face of the threat of closure facing Harland & Wolff and the wider failure to bring forward actions to grow industrial skills and secure economic growth. Speaking after the meeting, Mr Thompson said,

“Today’s manufacturing forum meeting offered an opportunity to challenge directly the representatives of the UK government over their inaction in the face of threats across our economy – most obviously in regard to Harland & Wolff. We demanded answers as to what supports will be offered to compensate and protect the more than 40,000 jobs which are at risk from a hard Tory ‘no-deal’ Brexit.

“The workers who have occupied the Harland & Wolff shipyard for four weeks now have demonstrated tremendous ambition for the future – not just for their own jobs but that of future generations. We need to see a similar ambition from the UK government for the Northern Ireland economy, in particular the manufacturing sector.

“That must start with a commitment to safeguard jobs and skills in Harland & Wolff but must also extend to real action across the economy including investment to ensure that the skills-base for future manufacturing success is sustained.  In England we have seen moves to introduce T levels which offer working-class young people an opportunity to avail of skills tailored to the needs of industry and which prepare them for the jobs of the future. In the absence of power-sharing institutions we need to see a similar employment-led training approach extended to Northern Ireland”.

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