Around 1,400 jobs are dependent on the Scottish Government ending a contractual dispute between the financially stricken fabrication firm BiFab and the Beatrice Windfarm Project contractor Seaway Heavy Lifting (SHL).
That's the view of the joint trade unions representing the interests of over 600 members across BiFab’s three yards in Fife and Lewis, many of whom joined a protest in Edinburgh yesterday.
Hundreds marched to Holyrood. Earlier Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Jobs and Fair Week, Keith Brown MSP, stressed the Scottish Government would leave ‘no stone’ unturned’ in their engagements with all stakeholders involved in BiFab.
Meanwhile, Depute First Minister John Swinney also confirmed to Parliament that the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was returning early from her trip to Bonn, where she has been attending Climate Change talks, to be available to convene face-to-face discussions in Edinburgh.
GMB Scotland Secretary Gary Smith said: “We need the Scottish Government to get to the root of this contractual dispute between BiFab and SHL. The role of SHL must be brought under the spotlight. How much do the disputed figures amount to, what is the role of the UK government in this process and how much is the taxpayer on the hook?
The Unite union’s Scotland Secretary Pat Rafferty said: “There are 1400 jobs at stake here along with the future of Scottish renewables manufacturing - and what we have is the questions piling up relentlessly and nobody giving out any answers.
"This is a Scottish project for SSE, the Scottish energy giant, for a massive Scottish windfarm with a Scottish company delivering on an agreed contract.
"Where we are now is that a costs dispute with the Dutch owned main contractor SHL seems to be holding the future of all of this to ransom.”
Today, following a recent meeting at Arnish with management, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar Leader Roddie Mackay has confirmed ongoing support for the company Bi-Fab in seeking to retain their effective and hard working workforce. Councillor Mackay said: “This is a very difficult time for all at Bi-Fab and we remain highly concerned about the future of the company and the potential impacts on individuals and their families.
"It is frustrating that despite the loyalty of the workers and their ability in this particular contract to deliver on time and on budget that the company faces these major challenges.
"The Comhairle has written to Government looking for their best efforts in protecting Arnish, its skilled workforce and its strategic importance. Any loss of jobs would a significant blow to the local economy and it is critical that the Government and other stakeholders in the supply chain to bring new money to the table to help sustain the company. The Comhairle stands ready to support and assist where possible and appropriate.”
Alasdair Allan, SNP MSP for Na-h-Eileanan an Iar, yesterday met with members of the BiFab workforce, as they rallied at the Scottish Parliament . He said: “I was pleased to meet with members of the BiFab workforce outside Holyrood today, and offer my support to the workers and families affected, as the Scottish Government works to assist in finding a sustainable future for these jobs.
“This week, I have been speaking to ministerial colleagues about the situation at Arnish, and written to the First Minister to emphasise the importance of the yard to the Isle of Lewis. Scotland needs firms like BiFab to thrive if we’re to make the most of our renewable potential.
“It was great to hear the Depute First Minister bang the drum of the BiFab workforce today in Parliament and mention the dignity and resilience they have shown, in what will be a very stressful time for them and their families.
“John Swinney made clear how seriously the Scottish Government is taking this situation. He highlighted that the Government’s fundamental focus just now is on resolving the contractual issues that have led to this situation, and that they will leave no stone unturned in securing the future of the firm.
“Nicola Sturgeon returning early from her trip to Bonn further demonstrates the Government’s commitment to the renewable energy sector, and to the jobs in the Western Isles, as well as in Fife.”
Highlands and Islands Conservative MSP Donald Cameron also met with trade union representatives and workers from BiFab at the rally outside of the Scottish Parliament.
Donald Cameron MSP said: “This is an extremely worrying time for the near 1,400 staff who work for BiFab and their families, including the 160 strong workforce in Lewis. As a local MSP for the area, I want to say to those individuals that my office is here to offer whatever support and advice we can.
“I spoke with Alan Ritchie from the GMB and I am aware that he will be meeting with staff at the Arnish yard to offer them support. It is clear from the rally today that workers want to see a solution and I believe we can achieve that. We secured a future for the Lochaber smelter last year so it can be done.”
(This article has been updated since first being posted with additional comments from Comahirle nan Eilean Siar)