Workers in protest at under-threat Belfast shipyard

Workers have urged the Government to nationalise Belfast’s under-threat shipyard as they launched a disruptive protest and hung a banner from one of its landmark cranes.

Trade unionists fear the Harland and Wolff yard, which built the doomed Titanic liner and helped define the city’s industrial past, could close as early as this week.

Workers protesting at the main gate have locked it and maintain they will not leave until a resolution is found to enable a shipbuilder, which once employed tens of thousands of workers to support Allied forces during the Second World War, to remain open.

A banner hanging from one of the cranes read: “Save Our Shipyard”.

The business has been put up for sale by its Norwegian owners.

GMB union regional organiser Michael Mulholland said: “Shipyards such as Harland and Wolff or Ferguson are vital to any country’s commercial and defence infrastructure.

“However, it seems Mr (Boris) Johnson has yet to realise this and is prepared to allow Harland and Wolff to sink by default.

“The protest by workers today is an indication of their determination not to allow this to happen.”

The yard employs around 130 people and works on wind energy and marine engineering projects.

Trade unionists fear it will not survive long enough to participate in plans to build more Royal Navy ships in the UK.

Susan Fitzgerald, regional co-ordinating officer with the Unite trade union, said: “Workers fighting to preserve Harland and Wolff deserve the support of everyone concerned for the future of jobs and skills in Northern Ireland.”

She said Mr Johnson will soon make his first visit to Northern Ireland as Prime Minister, and called on him to take action.

“Unite is again calling on his Government to nationalise Harland and Wolff and co-operate with the workers to chart a way forward for the yard,” she said.

“I’ve no doubt that other workers, trade unionists and the broader community will flock to support these workers in their efforts to secure jobs and a future.”

Harland and Wolff is one of the defining companies of Northern Ireland’s heavy industry heritage and was founded in 1861. It completed the Titanic in 1911.

Its two huge cranes dominate the east Belfast skyline but its peak period as an employment powerhouse was during the Second World War.

The last ship built there was the Anvil Point in 2003.

Steelworker Joe Passmore said: “We never thought we would be put in this position. It was always assumed that the management and politicians would come up with a plan but so far they’ve failed, but we aren’t prepared to see this place fail when we know it can be viable and vibrant.

“The Government needs to nationalise this yard to not just save jobs but to create more.”

Staff member Paul Beattie added the workforce was highly-skilled and committed.

“It’s not good enough for anyone to shrug their shoulders and say we should walk out of here on Wednesday and never return.

“We are disgusted at the idea of companies sitting out there like vultures waiting for this place to go into insolvency so they can swoop in.”

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