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BiFabulous news for threatened workers as deal keeps yards open

Workers from engineering firm BiFab hold a demonstration in Edinburgh (Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Workers from engineering firm BiFab hold a demonstration in Edinburgh (Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

THE future of 1400 threatened jobs was secured last night with a deal struck to keep energy engineering firm BiFab out of administration.

The company, which makes equipment for the oil and gas industry and the renewable energy sector, filed a notice of intention to appoint administrators last week.

It had suffered cash flow problems after a dispute over a contract.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon flew back early from a United Nations climate change conference to head up talks aimed at saving the company.

That threat has now been lifted and work will continue on the current contract for the Beatrice Offshore Windfarm.

A dispute over payments involving BiFab and the Dutch-owned contractor, Seaway Heavy Lifting, had been at the centre of the problems.

But ministers said a financial package has now been agreed and pledged to loan cash to BiFab if necessary.

Ms Sturgeon said: “I am pleased that after an extensive series of talks over the last week and two days of intense negotiations we have been able to broker a commercial agreement that lifts the threat of administration from BiFab and allows work on the current contract to continue.

“In particular I welcome the moves made by Seaway Heavy Lifting, SSE and the partners in the Beatrice Project, JCE Offshore and Siemens to resolve this situation and enable BiFab to continue its work on this contract.

“Over the last seven days we have worked to ensure all partners understood the urgency of the position BiFab found themselves in and the part they could play in relieving the financial pressure on the company.

“Seaway Heavy Lifting and SSE in particular have chosen to back BiFab today to complete their contract and that is a real vote of confidence in the company and the workforce.”

The First Minister admitted “a lot of work” still needs to be done to secure the company’s long-term future but pledged Ministers will continue to work to keep manufacturing going at the yards in Burntisland and Methil in Fife and Arnish on the Isle of Lewis.

Employees had staged a work-in to keep the sites open and a mass march to the Scottish Parliament took place on Thursday to coincide with First Minister’s Questions.

It is understood that the deal was only completed after Seaway Heavy Lifting Chief Executive Officer Jan Willem van der Graaf “moved a long way” after flying into Edinburgh for crunch talks. All the companies involved were locked on the fifth floor of the Scottish Government’s St Andrews House headquarters in the capital’s city centre for almost all of Friday and yesterday, as Ministers and officials acted as go-betweens to strike a deal.

 

 

 

Sources said that Mr van der Graff told BiFab team that he wanted them to be able to go back to Fife with their heads held high.

Negotiators missed anniversaries and their children’s birthdays to strike a deal, with Economy Secretary Keith Brown kicking off early talks before Ms Sturgeon arrived at lunchtime.

Although the companies had agreed how much they could each contribute on Friday, the final crunch talks about terms and conditions “could have brought all of the previous day down if SHL hadn’t been helpful,” according to sources close to the talks.

The Scottish Government apparently made it clear that “no one would be leaving” the meetings untl a deal was done, with the First Minister having spent most of her time at a UN Climate Change summit in Bonn in a room on the phone to SSE, Seaway Heavy Lifting and BiFab representatives.

Leaders of the GMB and Unite trade unions, praised the role of the Scottish Government in brokering the deal.

In a joint statement, Gary Smith and Pat Rafferty said: “Make no mistake, these yards would be closed today if it wasn’t for the dignity and determination of the workers and their families in Fife and Lewis to save their jobs and industry.

“With their futures on a knife edge they worked for nothing, stayed strong and resolute, and by staying united they have won their future.

“Further, the Scottish Government said they would leave no stone unturned and their efforts have been pivotal.”

New Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard welcomed news that the immediate threat was lifted.

He said: “As we await the details of the deal, we must ensure that it protects all the 1400 jobs under threat now and in the future.”