Save Appledore Shipyard
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The GMB Union and Unite the Union are today launching a new campaign to save Appledore Shipyard from closure, following the news that Babcock have been unsuccessful in winning a key order.
Appledore is a source of great pride for the community producing four high quality offshore patrol vessels for the Irish Naval Service and many sections for both the HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales, including the bulbous bows, anchor pockets and flight decks. To see a successful shipyard turn profit year-on-year and then struggle to secure work for this committed workforce is sickening.
Since January, workers have been temporarily redeployed by Babcock to Devonport Dockyard in Plymouth, but with no sign of any work still, the situation is becoming more precarious by the day, and there are huge question marks over how many more months this will continue. Many workers have been travelling on buses from Bideford to Plymouth daily in what is a four-hour round trip. Others have taken temporary accommodation in Plymouth. It is now known amongst the workforce that the Armed Forces of Malta have selected the Italian yard Vittoria to build an offshore patrol vessel that the Appledore workforce were pinning much of their hope on. Babcock continue to try to secure other work for the site.
Chris Bright, GMB Union Acting Convenor at the shipyard said: "Members and their families are worried about losing their homes and having to move out of North Devon to find work, if the yard closes. Beyond Christmas it's anyone's guess what will happen to us. We continue to meet with the company on an ongoing basis."
Barry Hooper, Unite the Union Convenor said: "The workforce are really concerned about the future, and morale is low. Many of the workers have now been on the buses back and forth to Plymouth since January. The mood is tense."
Jake McLean, GMB Union representative on the shopfloor said: "When I left school I drifted and struggled from job to job in low paid agency work. I then went into Appledore as a unskilled labourer, went through an NVQ to learn a trade to set me up for the future, and I am proud to now be a fabricator with Babcock. I would like to think there could be a future for the yard for my children and grandchildren. It would devastating to lose the shipbuilding skills and history in North Devon. 197 ships have been built here and we don't want this to be the end. I don't want to see my children in minimum wage dead end jobs in the future, struggling to make ends meet. North Devon can't rely on just tourism and farming."
New research from the unions highlights the massive impact closure could have on the economy. Under conservative estimates this includes a potential £490,000 per year in lost income tax, £380,000 per year in lost NI, £300,000 per year in lost council tax, and an £800,000 increase in the benefits bill. This is not to mention VAT and other taxation.
Matt Roberts, GMB Union Regional Organiser said: "The news of the latest potential major work going to an Italian competitor is a huge blow to an already under-threat yard. This feels like a few more nails in the coffin of shipbuilding on the River Torridge. The skills at Appledore cannot be turned on and off like a tap. In other countries, governments would support their industry during troughs in work and provide the conditions for advanced manufacturing to thrive. Everyone associated with Appledore is gutted at the latest news coming out, but the unions will not accept this is the beginning of the end. We will keep fighting for shipbuilding to continue here."
Heathcliffe Pettifer, Unite the Union Regional Officer said: "When you consider that the government's National Shipbuilding Strategy was effectively written around Appledore, it's incredible that we are in this position. As a local resident, I know the effect on local businesses this will have and I fear the decline of the area. The unions will be organising a mass rally in Bideford in support of the yard, and we hope this will be widely supported. Considering that the wages at foreign yards can be more than double what Appledore workers are paid, and the cost of some of the recent ships they have built at Appledore were around the £50 million mark, compared to similar ships by competitors at around £125 million a ship, how can this site not be viable."
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