'We saved our shipyard' say H&W workers as Belfast shipyard is bought from administration for £6m

THUMBS UP: One worker at H&W celebrates news that the shipyard has been bought, thus ending a nine-week occupation. Photo: Hugh Russell
Gary McDonald Business Editor

A FINANCIAL bid for Harland & Wolff by a London-based energy specialist has been accepted following a nine-week sit-in by shipyard staff.

InfraStrata, the firm behind a massive sub-sea gas storage project near Carrickfergus, has bought the historic Belfast marine manufacturing company for £6 million.

It means the 79 H&W staff who didn't take voluntary redundancy when the yard went into administration in August after the collapse of its Norwegian parent company are now likely keep their jobs.

And the boss of InfraStrata confirmed that as well as retaining those workers, he plans to grow staff numbers by "several hundred" in the next five years.

The deal, which has been ratified by administrators from BDO, has been heralded as a victory for the workers, who had occupied the site as part of a high-profile 'Save Our Shipyard' campaign.

Within hours of the deal being confirmed, that banner was hastily altered to read 'We Saved Our Shipyard'.

Steel worker and employee representative Joe Passmore said the workers were hoping to return to their jobs by this Thursday.

He said: "This vindicates everything we believed in from the start.

"We know what the future could be here, we know the skills that exist here, and we know we can make a success of this, we always did, that's why we took the stand in the first place. We have been vindicated."

Susan Fitzgerald, regional co-ordinating officer with the Unite union, said: "From July 29, when workers were faced with the imminent collapse of the yard, they were determined not only to save their own jobs but to safeguard Northern Ireland's skill base going forward.

"Their nine-week occupation will be remembered by future generations of workers as evidence of the power of collective action."

And Denise Walker, senior organiser with GMB, said workers "took control of the situation and of their workplace".

She added: "In so doing they have ensured that Harland & Wolff will not only continue but will be in a position to expand and fulfil its potential as a lynchpin of Northern Ireland's economy."

InfraStrata confirmed it had signed heads of terms to buy the principal assets of Harland & Wolff Heavy Industries Ltd and Harland & Wolff Group plc from BDO.

The transaction includes a multi-purpose fabrication facility, quaysides and docking facilities in the Port of Belfast.

And InfraStrata will now bring much of the fabrication requirements for its Islandmagee gas storage project to the shipyard.

Its chief executive John Wood said: "Harland & Wolff is a landmark asset and its reputation as one of the finest multi-purpose fabrication facilities in Europe is testament to its highly skilled team in Belfast.

"This acquisition is a function of deep operational synergies between the various business segments of the company, with Harland & Wolff underpinning the construction economics of Islandmagee and other future projects."

He added: "While our core priority will be to deliver our flagship project in Islandmagee, we believe there are opportunities to welcome potential new clients due to the diverse skill set at the facility.

"This acquisition will clearly provide substantial advantages through vertical integration in addition to demonstrating our commitment to the Northern Irish economy, particularly in the post-Brexit era."

A spokesman for administrators BDO confirmed: "The agreed terms of sale will include the transfer of the remaining employees on their existing terms and conditions to the purchaser upon completion.

"In the interim, it is intended that the remaining employees will be able to return to work in the coming days to facilitate the remaining steps required for the completion of a sale.

"This is a very positive step towards securing a sale of the shipyard and protecting and safeguarding the employment of the workforce."

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