The government’s continual lack of commitment to building ships for the Royal Navy threatens ‘to shipwreck’ the future of shipyards in Belfast and Appledore in Devon, Unite, the largest union for defence workers, warned today (Friday 5 October).

The union called for defence secretary Gavin Williamson and business secretary Greg Clark to stop ‘navel gazing’ and make a firm commitment to back the UK’s centuries-old naval shipbuilding tradition.

Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner said: “We have two iconic shipyards - Harland & Wolff in Belfast and Appledore in north Devon - fighting for a future.

“The loss of the contract to Italian yard Fincantieri has exposed the vulnerability of the Appledore site, while government delays to the Type 31e frigates and an obsession with off-shoring the construction of three fleet support ships for our naval carrier fleet is threatening jobs across the UK.

“Our future capability to build for the Royal Navy in UK shipyards hangs by a thread, so it is imperative that the government makes support for these yards a keystone of any post-Brexit industrial strategy.

“Defence secretary Gavin Williamson and business secretary Greg Clark must now wake up and smell the coffee. They must act now to defend UK yards and what’s left of any defence and wider industrial strategy.

“Otherwise, the future of these yards and all those who work at them, alongside thousands more jobs in the UK-wide supply chain, could be shipwrecked.

“Block building of this work could sustain both the Appledore and Belfast communities, supporting decent skilled jobs, apprenticeships for our youth and the families reliant upon them. Instead, government seems willing to allow our shipyards to fall silent and skilled jobs go to wall.

“The government needs to back UK Plc, our shipbuilders, steel plants and component suppliers and commit now to the UK design, engineering and build of the navy’s solid support ships in UK shipyards with 140,000 tonnes of British steel.

“A failure to do so, alongside the continuing dithering over Type 31e frigates, will be a gross betrayal to UK ship workers, loyal communities and regional economies, while putting at risk manufacturing skills vital to the industry.”

Unite regional officer responsible for Appledore Heathcliffe Pettifer said “Unite is committed to supporting our members still employed by Babcock, but transferred to Devonport dockyard.

“There are a number of questions our members will want answering, therefore I have secured a meeting with the Babcock directors, the leader of Torridge district council, and Torridge and West Devon MP Geoffrey Cox.”

Unite regional coordinating officer for Northern Ireland Susan Fitzgerald said: “Today in Belfast we launched a charter for the future of the UK shipbuilding sector. Belfast has been a shipbuilding city since 1791 and we face the very real prospect that the iconic Harland and Wolff cranes could become little more than another tourist attraction.

“Unite will not allow our rich industrial heritage to be needlessly lost. The UK government could, by lifting its finger on these contracts, secure hundreds of jobs in Belfast shipyard and create the basis for a thriving industry which would sustain thousands of further jobs in the future.

“Today, we are launching a campaign to mobilise the city of Belfast behind a demand that our shipyard jobs and skills are safeguarded.”


Notes to editors:

For more information please contact Unite senior communications officer Shaun Noble on 020 3371 2060 or 07768 693940. Unite press office is on: 020 3371 2065

  • Unite represents workers in Britain and Ireland with members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.