BiFab: Energy giant SSE urged to help resolve crisis

Hundreds of BiFab workers from yards in Fife, including Burntisland, are set to march in Edinburgh tomorrow (Thursday).  Pic: Fife Photo Agency
Hundreds of BiFab workers from yards in Fife, including Burntisland, are set to march in Edinburgh tomorrow (Thursday). Pic: Fife Photo Agency

Union leaders have said energy giant, SSE, holds the key to solving the BiFab crisis.

As they prepared to march on the Scottish Parliament, they called on the company to ‘reign in’ contractor Seaway Heavy Lifting (SHL) – and save 1,400 jobs in Fife and Lewis.

The latest move in the ‘Battle for BiFab’ came as up to 600 workers and supporters planned to travel to Edinburgh for the march and rally on Thursday morning.

They will muster in Johnstone Terrace, in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle, and head down the Royal Mile to the Scottish Parliament to protest at the threat of administration hanging over the major engineering plant’s yards in Fife and the Isle of Lewis.

SSE is the largest stakeholder in the £2.6billion Beatrice Windfarm Limited (BOWL) Project - and union leaders believe it holds the key to resolving the contractual payments dispute between BiFab and SHL.

It believes SSE is blocking the path to a resolution, and it wants its CEO, Alistair Phillips-Davies, to step in.

Pat Rafferty, Unite Scottish Secretary, said: “Today the Scottish Government told us it can see a path out of this crisis.

‘‘But it’s a path blocked by Scotland’s biggest energy company, SSE, remaining at loggerheads with the main Dutch-owned contractor SHL.

“It’s time that Alistair Phillips-Davies, CEO of SSE, came out of the shadows on this crisis used his powers to get this sorted.

‘‘He needs to rein in SHL and guarantee these jobs and the future of the communities in Fife and Lewis affected by it.’’

He said the workforce was leading by example – and deserved the full support of all involved.

“The dedication and professionalism of our trade union members, who are working for free to defend their futures and their industry, should send a loud and clear message to all stakeholders and politicians - this is a workforce that must be saved,’‘ he said.

“Both trades unions involved in the BiFab crisis welcomed the work which had been done to date to seek a way out of the BiFab crisis by the Scottish Government.

“In turn, the Cabinet Secretary for Industry, Keith Brown praised the steadfastness of the workers at BiFab and the fact that despite difficulties they had agreed to keep the yards open by continuing to work on the contracts.

GMB Scotland Secretary Gary Smith said:

“This work and this contract will be completed in Scotland if everyone pulls together - there is a way forward here.

“But the spotlight now needs to be put firmly on SSE which controls the billion pound Beatrice contract, the Dutch contractor SHL at the root of the payments dispute and also the UK Government who have £21 million of taxpayers’ money underwriting this.

“It’s time for everyone to stand up and be counted. Letting these workers and their communities go under is not an option.”

Around 600 workers are taking part in tomorrow’s mass demonstration.

The workers, supported by their families, will assemble at 10am at Johnston Terrace, leaving at 10.30am to march down the Royal Mile to the Parliament.

At 11am a rally in support of the workers will be held outside the Scottish Parliament urging the Scottish Government and MSPs, of all parties, to work together to fight for the future of fabrication firm BiFab.

They are calling for the government to take action, as employees continue working at the yards unpaid this week to defend their livelihoods.

Bob MacGregor of the Unite Union told the Press: “There will be a mass demonstration of the workers who will be marching in their overalls from the top of the Royal Mile down to the Scottish Parliament tomorrow (Thursday) where they will be showing the government that this is not just about finances, it is their lives and their families’ lives.

“Some of these workers are at risk of going into poverty if their jobs are not saved.

“There will be staff at the yards tomorrow so we are keeping a presence there to continue the work. We have to let the government know how serious this situation is so it can step in and do something to help.”

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 is the view of the joint trade unions representing the interests of over 600 members across BiFab’s three yards in Fife and Lewis, following topical questions on the future of jobs in the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday afternoon.

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.

Under question by cross-party MSPs, Mr Brown acknowledged ‘disputed payments’ between BiFab and SHL and in a new development revealed an undetermined role by the UK Government in the contract. The trade unions are now seeking urgent clarification on this.

Unite 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. Make no mistake if BiFab does go into administration the trade unions will not stand by and watch these yards being asset stripped. The Scottish Government has to get answers and get them now from BiFab, SHL, SSE - and Westminster to boot.”

GMB Scotland Secretary Gary Smith said: “Time is of the essence if administration is to be avoided and 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?

“Today our members are working for free to defend their jobs and families. We need that same determination and desire to be matched in the corridors of power and their influence brought to bear on the private interest groups behind this project.”

He added: “So everyone with the best interests of the country at heart needs to pull together now and battle for BiFab - letting these workers and their communities go under is not an option.”

Meanwhile, a spokesman for Seaway Heavy Lifting (SHL) said it welcomed support from the Scottish Government, but insisted it continues to pay BiFab on time.

He said SHL estimates that 61 per cent of the work has been completed and, as a result, has paid BiFab 61 per cent of the project value.

The spokesman said: “Seaway Heavy Lifting (SHL) welcomes the intervention of the Scottish Government and is working extremely hard to find ways of supporting BiFab.

“We remain supportive of a rescue package that is endorsed by and involves all stakeholders. SHL continues to pay BiFab on time. We estimate that 61 per cent of the work has been completed and, as a result, have paid BiFab 61 per cent of the project value.

“We have been working proactively with BiFab since October 2016 to address production problems and cost overruns.”

The spokesman added: “SHL has always been keen to support BiFab’s workforce but we need a long-term plan from BiFab to ensure financial stability and project completion.”