Hundreds of BiFab workers march on Holyrood in protest over jobs

BiFab workers march on the Scottish Parliament today to demonstrate their anger over job fears. Picture: Jon Svage.
BiFab workers march on the Scottish Parliament today to demonstrate their anger over job fears. Picture: Jon Svage.
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Hundreds of workers at the struggling engineering firm BiFab have marched on the Scottish Parliament in their fight to safeguard jobs and secure the future of the company.

The workers – members of the Unite and GMB unions and agency staff – marched through the centre of Edinburgh today under the banner “Battle for BiFab”.

The son of a BiFab worker goes into bat for his father's job at the Fife firm. Picture: Jon Svage.

The son of a BiFab worker goes into bat for his father's job at the Fife firm. Picture: Jon Svage.

BiFab, or Burntisland Fabrications Ltd, has filed a notice of intention to appoint administrators as it faces a critical cash position linked to ongoing contracts.

The company, which makes equipment for both the oil and gas industry and the renewable energy sector, has a workforce of 1,400 employees, contractors and subcontractors at its yards in Burntisland and Methil in Fife and Arnish on the Isle of Lewis.

Unions want Scottish and UK ministers to help resolve a dispute involving BiFab and the main Dutch-owned contractor, Seaway Heavy Lifting (SHL).

READ MORE: ‘Positive’ BiFab talks between unions and Scottish Government

The BiFab yard at Burntisland in Fife

The BiFab yard at Burntisland in Fife

The workers, many waving flags and holding banners, stopped all traffic on the Royal Mile as they marched the length of the street towards the Scottish Parliament.

Speaking following a rally outside Holyrood, GMB Scotland Secretary Gary Smith praised the “absolutely magnificent” turnout.

He said: “It just shows you the strength of feeling amongst the workforce.

“It’s a very clear message to Seaway Heavy Lifting (SHL) and (energy giant) SSE – nothing is leaving Scotland. This work started in Scotland and it’s going to be finished in Scotland.”

READ MORE: Scottish Government pledges to do whatever it can to help BiFab

He said he recognises that the Scottish Government is “trying to pull out all the stops” and that there is cross-party support for the campaign as he criticised the behaviour of the Dutch-owned contractor.

“This is heartbreaking for the workforce and their families,” he said.

“But, in terms of the resolve of the workforce, it’s heartening. Nothing is going out of those yards. There will be no work moved abroad or down south.

“We remain optimistic that a solution can be found, but we have to keep the pressure on the Scottish Government, the UK Government and SHL and SSE in particular.”

Addressing the rally, Unite Scottish secretary Pat Rafferty said: “We know, from the last few days, that this is going to be a tough fight.

“But today we say to this parliament before us: the jobs at these yards in Methil, Burntisland and Lewis are our jobs – Scottish jobs – and we will fight tooth and nail to protect them.

“This contract will be finished in these yards by our members, because these jobs are not for sale, at any price.”

He said he was “encouraged” by a recent meeting with the Scottish Government, but said the current situation “beggars belief”.

Mr Rafferty also called for input from the UK Government to help end the uncertainty facing workers.

“Let the message from this rally be: this fight is our fight. We’re not going away and we will keep these yards open,” he added.

READ MORE: Scots fabrication business BiFab ‘to call in administrators’

Scottish Economy Secretary Keith Brown recently told MSPs that a “disputed payment” was the source of BiFab’s financial problems.

While he accepted that is a matter for the two firms involved – BiFab and SHL – he said the Scottish Government would do everything in its power to help.

Addressing the rally, Mr Brown said: “The priorities expressed to me by the trade unions are the same ones that we have – to continue BiFab, to make sure the workers are paid in the meantime whilst we sort out the longer term future, and to secure that long-term future beyond the contract at the centre of this dispute.

“What I will say of the people we’ve spoken to – there’s a general recognition of the excellence of the workforce and the skills that are in that workforce.

“That is the strongest card we have to play in the negotiations and discussions that we have. We are absolutely committed to this.”

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn tweeted: “Solidarity with BiFab workers, their families, communities and the trade unions fighting to keep these jobs.

“The UK and Scottish Governments must do whatever it takes to make sure this viable company stays open.”