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Updated: Methil wildcat strikes brought to an end with Harland and Wolff and unions poised for talks

© Wullie Marr / DCT MediaWorkers Methil fabrication yard
Harland and Wolff yard at Methill, Fife

Workers taking part in wildcat strikes at the Methil fabrication yard have stood down with negotiations due to start shortly.

The GMB has confirmed that staff at the Fife facility have returned to work and will face no disciplinary action or loss of pay.

And union officials expect to an agreement to be reached with Methil-owner Harland and Wolff (LON: HARL) when talks are held next week.

Dozens of workers at the fabrication yard in Methil have unexpectedly downed tools today over claims of unpaid wages.

bifab yards

Harland and Wolff said local Unite and GMB representatives “unilaterally decided to call a wildcat strike”, branding the move as “militant”.

Wages and recognition

According to the GMB, around 200 workers walked off the job at Methil, were work is being carried out for the Neart na Gaoithe (NnG) wind farm.

More than half of those, around 120, are thought to be Portuguese sub-contractors.

The union claimed that Harland and Wolff owes sub-contractor Santa Cruz money, allegedly a “substantial amount”.

As a result, the firm told its employees not to work as it can no longer pay them.

© Supplied by Harland and Wolff
Harland and Wolff bagged a contract for the NNG wind farm last April

In a statement released on Friday, Harland and Wolff said that “for the avoidance of doubt”, the local workforce have been paid on time and “continue to be paid in line” with their contracts.

It is understood that a lack of movement on union representation was also a factor behind the industrial action.

GMB Scotland organiser Dominic Pritchard said: “All staff have now returned to work and will face no disciplinary action or loss of pay.

“Unions will return next week to further meetings with Harland & Wolff where we will expect to negotiate a full trade union recognition agreement with the employer.

“Moving forward we are confident this will mean better industrial relations and ultimately will set-out conditions that will make work better for the workers we represent and want to organise.”

Bob MacGregor, Unite industrial officer, said: “Those working for the sub-contractor, Santa Cruz, and the core workforce at Harland & Wolff have now returned to work following the recent unrest at the yard.

“Unite participated in discussions with Harland & Wolff today in order to explore how we can deescalate similar situations from arising in the future.

“We are pleased that the company agreed with us that the best way forward for dealing with workplace incidents is through a recognition agreement.

“This will be signed next week and we are confident that it will provide a stable framework for discussing issues at the yard going forward.”

‘Militant action’ unhelpful

While Harland and Wolff is yet to recognise any trade union at the Methil facility, it says it has made it “abundantly clear” that it wants to do so.

The company is also keen to enter into negotiations on the collective bargaining agreement with the workforce.

Workers Methil fabrication yard © Supplied by Harland & Wolff
Harland and Wolff CEO John Wood

In an update shared on the London Stock Exchange, Harland and Wolff said: “Further to the company’s update announced this morning, the company is pleased to confirm that the strike action has been called off at Harland & Wolff (Methil) Limited.

“The company has had extensive conversations with the trade union representatives and an agreement has been reached to provide in-principle trade union recognition by the end of next week followed by formal trade union recognition once the necessary legal and administrative processes have been completed.

“Fabrication on the Saipem project continues as planned.”

A chequered past

A source close to the matter says no work was carried out on Wednesday or Thursday for the eight turbine jackets for NnG.

Harland and Wolff, then Infrastrata, won a £26 million contract with Saipem to manufacture the structures for the offshore wind farm, just weeks after it acquired the Methil facility.

Workers Methil fabrication yard © Andrew Milligan/PA Wire
The Bi-Fab fabrication yard in Methil before being mothballed in 2020.

It was billed as a big win for Scotland’s renewables industry, and it came with a promise of almost 300 new, indirect and direct jobs.

The Methil facility had previously been owned by BiFab, which folded in 2020 after a lifeline deal to build jackets for NnG fell through.

Harland and Wolff snapped up Methil, as well as the Arnish yard on the Isle of Lewis, in February 2021 for £850,000.

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