INTERVIEW: The Future of BiFab
After hundreds of BiFab workers received redundancy notices, we spoke to GMB Scotland Organiser Hazel Nolan to find out what this means for the future of the yards, and renewable energy production in Scotland.
Do these notices mean the end of the yards?
These places basically work on an anti-union hire and fire approach, that’s their business model. It’s hard to even answer how many members we have at any one point because these members only come to us when they reach certain points of contract. When we were marching last November there were people marching with us who knew fully well that even with the intervention they were still being made redundant, but they marched anyway because it was important to keep the yards open. Most of the workers will have worked under an HR1 form, it’s very common in that sector. These notices were always coming, that doesn’t mean the end of the yards.
Whether BiFab itself stays isn’t important, what we care about is the jobs. We’re campaigning for long-term sustainability, and that’s not premised on it continuing under the BiFab brand.
What can the Scottish Government do exactly?
There are three yards, one in Arnish (Outer Hebrides) and two yards in Fife - Burntisland and Methil. The Arnish and Methil yards are both owned by Scottish Enterprise, and what the Scottish government needs to be doing is ensuring that these two yards are both centres of excellence if we want to hold our own with other countries when competing for contracts.
They need state of the art investment. And unfortunately at the moment the Methil yard is in need of serious attention. It’s dirty, mud everywhere - frankly the conditions people are working in is disgusting. You can hardly breathe in the canteen.
Considering the the disproportionate amount of wind energy generated in Scotland, there’s hardly any work here compared with Germany and the Netherlands because of underinvestment. The competitor yards on the continent are much better equipped. An example of that is the Beatrice Wind Project - it’s a multi-billion dollar investment but hardly any of that is in Scotland - less than 3% in total.
There are things they can’t do because of EU tendering laws. However the least they can do is look for a buyer in the event BiFab falls through.
Some people have suggested that even if these yards closed, the skills could be kept with re-training, what do you think of that?
Firstly let me make the point - the idea that there is need for retraining is absurd. One of the members on the march in November said to me “We’re like the coal miners now.” - but they aren’t. For a start they won in November, and secondly - this is an industry of the future. There’s no need for these yards to close. Scotland needs the ability to produce wind turbines - it’s central to energy policy and the whole economy.
And more importantly in these communities, what other industry is going to invest in high skilled jobs in Fife and the Outer Hebrides? if these yards go, so will the jobs, and these communities will be pulled under as well.
What are the GMB doing?
Firstly, we fought to keep the yards open in November. The immediate issue then was that they had run out of money, but the longer term issue is that they might run out of work.We came up with the idea of the occupation and the work-in, and we won! Thirdly we’re leading the way on negotiating with the Scottish Government to deliver the investment the yards need, and to make sure they find an alternative buyer.