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Shipyard workers in remarkable turnaround in fortunes

When a business fails there is rarely a happy ending but this week we witnessed a remarkable turnaround in the fortunes of Harland and Wolff shipyard in east Belfast.

There was widespread dismay in August when the world famous yard went into administration after decades of decline.

While three years ago there were 2,500 workers directly employed by the shipyard, by the summer of this year that number had dwindled to around 130.

However, workers and their trade union representatives mounted a vigorous campaign to keep the yard open and those efforts continued after the administrators were called in.

The remaining workers mounted a nine-week sit-in and did their best to keep the shipyard in the headlines as they hoped a buyer could be found.

Their efforts paid off this week with the news that a London-based company that works on major energy projects had bought the business for £6 million.

InfraStrata, which is seeking to develop a multi-million pound natural gas storage facility at Islandmagee, said it planned to increase the size of the Belfast workforce to 400 over the next five years.

Administrators BDO confirmed that the agreed terms of sale will include the transfer of the remaining 79 employees on their existing terms and conditions to the company when the deal is completed.

Yesterday there was a celebratory mood as the employees walked through the gates of the shipyard to return to work.

The fact that a buyer has come forward and the jobs of these workers secured can only be seen as a hugely positive move.

It is a development that will be watched carefully by the 1,200 staff at Wrightbus in Ballymena who will also be hoping that someone will step forward to save their jobs.

We are told that four potential bidders - one from China, one from Britain and two others from the EU - are interested in buying the family-owned bus-builder which collapsed last week.

The sudden closure of the firm has left staff devastated and caused widespread dismay in Ballymena which has seen major job losses in recent years.

It must be hoped that any existing stumbling blocks can be overcome and a deal done to save as many jobs as possible among this highly-skilled workforce.

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