Harland and Wolff shipyard could go into insolvency at the end of the month at a time when trade unions feel there could be a “renaissance” in the shipbuilding industry.
Concerns are growing for the 132 employees at the historic Belfast shipyard with only a matter of days to find a buyer unless government intervention could help to reshape the future of the company.
The shipyard that built the Titanic and once employed 35,000 people has been on the market since December as its Norwegian parent company seeks to reduce its debts having filed for bankruptcy.
It is understood a bidder had been talking exclusively about buying Harland and Wolff, but their interest has cooled leaving the shipyard in a precarious position of having to find a solution before the end of the month.
It comes at a time when the UK government has made noises about the need for more naval vessels to be built in the UK.
Unions Unite and GMB who represent the workers at Harland and Wolff say nationalisation of the shipyard could be a potential saviour.
Unite’s Susan Fitzgerald told Good Morning Ulster: “There’s huge concerns and anxiety about the future. There’s also incredible disappointment and shock that at a time when there could be a genuine renaissance of shipbuilding right around the UK securing work for 20 to 30 years that here we could be watching the demise and the closure of one of the most famous shipyards in the world.”
She said: “The ask is to have a major political intervention, a shift in consciousness, a preparedness of this government and the local representatives here to put pressure on this government to intervene in a way that they haven’t done in the recent past, but that they could do again like their colleagues in Scotland.
“What the Scottish government are engaging in is drawing up a plan to privatise the Ferguson shipyard on the Clyde. There needs to be some big thinking about what happens to Harland and Wolff here.
“Our members, independently from us, raised that the only way to save the shipyard is to renationalise it. That’s what our politicians should be advocating.”
GMB’s Michael Mullholland said: “We will continue to engage with management, we will also look to continue to engage politically at whatever level we can, but we’re running out of time. We need to inject some space between what could be a very sad end and the possibility of a bright future.”
DUP MP for East Belfast Gavin Robinson, who has been involved in H&W talks, said: “I am concerned about the recent developments at Harland & Wolff and in particular the impact these could have on the staff employed there and our wider maritime industry.
“I have been engaging with management and unions over recent days and recognise the concerns within the workforce and the wider community.
“Whilst discussions between the company and an initial bidder have not positively concluded, we will continue to work with management of H&W to explore all available options.”