Workers fighting to save their jobs at Burntisland Fabrications (BiFab) marched through Edinburgh on Thursday. Unite and GMB union members launched a “work-in” at the Fife-based offshore offshore energy manufacturer the previous day.
James Robertson is a BiFab worker and union safety rep. “We’ve come Edinburgh because we’re caught in the middle in a dispute between two contractors,” he explained.
BiFab worker Tam told Socialist Worker, “One company wants money, the other one says they've paid and we're stuck in the middle getting shafted. We're working in to stop the company that owes money from taking the jobs elsewhere.
“We ask trade unionists to back us up and help us as much as they can.”
BiFab has a workforce of over 1,400 across Fife and the Western Isles of Scotland. The company has supplied the North Sea oil and gas industry, but has shifted to producing parts for offshore wind turbines.
Bosses said the company was in a “critical cash position” on Monday and would go bankrupt.
It was supplying the Breatrice Wind Farm, a major renewable energy project in Moray Firth in the North Sea. BiFab completed 77 percent of the work for Norwegian-based Seaway Heavy Lifting, but had been paid for less than 40 percent of it.
At a meeting with Unite and GMB officials on Monday workers unanimously voted for a work-in.
Alan Ritchie, a GMB official, said, “The workforce will be maintaining the gates, nothing will come in or out of the yard without the joint shop stewards' approval.”
The workers rallied outside the Scottish Parliament in Holyrood after a march organised by Unite, GMB and the STUC. Workers shouted "We demand the right to work" and heckled MSPs saying "You'd better back us up" and "Shake the magic money tree".
Gary, who has worked at BiFab for five years, said, “I’ve just been taken on the books permanently a month ago so this has come as a shock.
“The first we found out about this was over the news at the weekend”.
Another worker, Ron, told Socialist Worker, “We've all got kids and mortgages. We say to the first minister 'save our jobs', put together some kind of rescue package. We feel like the government is doing nothing to help us.”
The workers need more than Scottish energy minister Paul Wheelhouse’s warm words about finding a “positive outcome”. If the Scottish government is serious, it should force SHL to stump up the money or nationalise the plant to save jobs.
James “We’re still working, we’re still getting this contract done.
“We’re here to show the politicians to show that we’re committed to this contract and the future of the yard. If we want to save it, we need their help”.
But the politicians and bosses will not act unless workers force them.
At the moment that means continuing to work as administrators are called in. Bosses shouldn’t be allowed to get away with not paying workers, and any solution must include back-pay.
GMB convenor Mike Sullivan told Socialist Worker, “The Scottish government has to step up and pay our wages until we can get a settlement, you'd think it would have some funds to do that.”
But the work-in also gives workers the power to stop administrators looting the factory’s assets.
Unite official Bob MacGregor explained, “The workers are willing to work this week without the guarantee of wages. The workforce are keen to protect what work they have done and they don’t want someone to come in and take it without paying for it.”
A militant fight, backed up by solidarity from across the trade union movement, can hold the government and bosses to ransom and save the workers’ jobs.