Relief for workers as buyer found for UK shipyard that built the Titanic

Tom Belger
Finance and policy reporter
Employees of Harland and Wolff, which has been saved. Photo: PA

A buyer has been found for the iconic Belfast shipyard Harland and Wolff, with the new owner pledging to save all its workers’ jobs.

UK-listed infrastructure company InfraStrata (INFA.L) plans to purchase two Harland and Wolff companies’ principal assets for £6m, it confirmed in a statement on Tuesday morning.

The company said all 79 employees who did not take voluntary redundancy earlier this year when their employer into administration will be kept on at the shipyard, where the Titanic was built. A new management team will be hired by the end of the year.

It comes after workers occupied the yard for nine weeks in a protest following the company being placed into administration.

The GMB and Unite unions pushed for staff to be kept on through its administrators despite not being paid.

InfraStrata said the shipyard was “ideally suited” for the energy infrastructure industry.

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It said the workers’ expertise help it bring construction work in-house for its own gas storage project in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, with plans to expand its wider workforce at the storage site to 400 during its construction.

InfraStrata also said the deal provided an opportunity to win new contracts in the defence, maritime and energy sectors “should such opportunities arise.”

The deal is expected to be sealed by the end of October, with plans to begin using the shipyard by November.

Digitally restored vintage maritime history photo of the RMS Titantic departing Southampton on April 10, 1912. Photo: Getty

John Wood, CEO of InfraStrata, said: “Harland and 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.

“Our Islandmagee Gas Storage Project will benefit greatly from their expertise in the energy sector, both technically and economically, and we look forward to growing the workforce significantly in the coming years.”

“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.”

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Denise Walker, a senior organiser at the GMB union, said: “While politicians substituted sympathy for action, dedicated workers took control of the situation and of their workplace. This news proves they were absolutely correct in their assertions that this was a yard with a future.

“Not prepared to watch their yard mothballed or picked over by asset strippers, workers took the brave decision to stand together to save their jobs for the current workforce and for generations yet to come.

“Their campaign has ensured that Harland and 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.”

Julian Smith, the UK minister for Northern Ireland, said: “I am delighted by the news that InfraStrata has purchased the Harland and Wolff shipyard and retained the skills and experience of the existing workforce. I firmly believe that the shipyard has a promising future and that InfraStrata’s plans present an exciting opportunity for both Belfast and Northern Ireland’s manufacturing and energy sectors.”

Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast. Photo: PA