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Friday, 22 March, 2002, 09:52 GMT
Lay-offs herald fears for shipyard
Harland and Wolff
The shipyard has been in decline for many years
Belfast's struggling shipyard Harland and Wolff has announced that it is to lay off another 140 staff in an attempt to preserve the industry.

It follows a raft of job cuts at the firm - owned by the Norwegian company Olsen Energy - over the last few years.

The company has been unable to secure enough shipbuilding work, and a lack of money to keep the business going during continuing hard times means it is threatened with closure.

Those employees affected will be notified shortly


On Friday, the company said 100 employees with steelwork trades and 44 other staff were to be laid off due to a lack of orders beyond current work for the Ministry of Defence.

In a statement, Harland & Wolff said the redundancies were "necessary" because the workforce and the shipyard would have been under-used as it had no firm contracts for future work.

"The company has sought to delay initiating action on redundancies as long as possible, not least as individuals' livelihoods are at stake," it said.

"(The company) has been in consultations with the trade unions since November 2001 when the potential under-utilisation (of the workforce) was initially identified.

"Those employees affected will be notified shortly, with the first tranche of individual notices following thereafter.

"This is expected to amount to some 85 employees, comprising 75 operators and 10 staff."

Stave off

The yard said it would also consider applications from employees for voluntary redundancy in those areas affected by the lack of orders.

The latest redundancy notices come as Harlands continues in negotiations with government ministers aimed at staving off closure.

Sir Reg Empey said company must take action to stay afloat
Sir Reg Empey said company must take action to stay afloat

Economy minister Sir Reg Empey said he regretted the decision to lay off staff, but said the company must "take whatever action they see fit in response to current levels of work activity and market prospects".

The minister added: "The review of the company's restructuring plan is nearing completion and I am keeping in contact with the Minister for Regional Development Peter Robinson, on this matter."

The timing of the job losses announcement has been dictated by the run-down of steel work on the yard's remaining orders.

However, the number of jobs lost also ties in with the yard's proposals for the future - which would see it move out of steel work almost completely.

With the banks and the government unwilling to bail it out - and with large debts to Olsen Energy - Harlands has been casting around for ways to finance another restructuring to try to save the business.

Last week, its management put forward its restructuring business plan to the ministers, which included the proposal to lay off 140 more staff.

Land sale

However, to raise the money, it said it needed to sell another chunk of its land - and this would require the backing of both the Sir Reg and Mr Robinson.

Harlands management are understood to be preparing to issue redundancy warning notices to the yard's remaining workers.

Alban Maginness criticised land sale proposal
Alban Maginness criticised land sale proposal

But Jackie Pollock of the Amicus trade union has said he hoped the 140 job losses would be the last announced at this time.

Harlands' plans to sell some land have already been criticised by chairman of the assembly's Regional Development Committee Alban Maginness.

He said last week he would "need a lot of convincing that the plans that have been drawn up are there simply to safeguard jobs rather than make a profit".

Olsen Energy has been increasingly focusing on the opportunity to make money by making its land in Belfast available for development for other uses.

There are plans for the area around Harlands to be developed as a new commercial and entertainment sector called the Titanic Quarter, after the infamous liner built at Harlands.

BBC NI's business correspondent James Kerr:
"The latest redundancy notice comes as negotiations continue with government ministers aimed at staving off closure"
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