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Cammell Laird: no to lay-offs, no to casualisation!

The Workers Party of Britain condemns Cammell Laird’s plans to make shipyard workers redundant and further casualise the workforce at Birkenhead.

As recently as January, the Financial Times was reporting a Peel Ports spokesman as saying that Laird has a “strong pipeline of business” and was not intending redundancies among the 900-strong workforce, adding: “We are very keen to support the business because of its long-term potential.”

Yet now comes the announcement that not only are 178 workers to be laid off but that this is just the first step in a restructuring exercise that openly plans to target permanent employment, using agency staff to casualise the workforce.

These plans, which were sprung on the workforce without any prior union negotiation despite the existence of a ‘job retention scheme’ at the yard, would have the effect of weakening the ability of workers to resist further attacks on staffing, pay levels and recognition of rights for highly-skilled labour.

The original Cammell Laird shipyard went bust in 1993 after its heyday as a mainstay of Britain’s shipbuilding industry. It was later revived on a diminished scale, building small vessels and contributing to the construction of an aircraft carrier, the HMS Queen Elizabeth.

In 2019, Camell hit choppy waters again, running up £37.4 million in losses on a £200 million contract to build a British Antarctic survey ship, as well as incurring a £15.8 million impairment charge.

The company was ‘saved’ by an infusion of cash from a consortium of two investors, Peel Group and DWS. Peel Group is a property and investment vehicle whilst DWS is the asset-management wing of the German Deutschebank. With the previous company boss shuffled out of the way, this consortium of major shareholders is what is currently steering the group.

Whatever may be the expertise of Peel Group and DWS when it comes to surfing the finance markets and boosting share values, it is not clear what, if anything, they know about building and selling boats. By slashing labour costs and deskilling the company’s workforce, they are compromising the future of the yard and the livelihoods of hundreds of workers who keep it going.

Albie McGuigan, GMB Regional Organiser, said: “Cammell Laird shipbuilders have worked through the pandemic, risking their lives to keep the yard afloat. Bosses have rewarded them by slashing almost 180 jobs. It’s sickening.

“Cammell Laird bosses must explain themselves, but ministers must not be allowed to ignore hundreds more shipbuilding jobs going to the wall.”

It is grotesque that the productive future of Cammell Laird should depend upon the short-term, profit-grubbing interests of German banks and high-rolling property tycoons.

The sooner the whole UK shipbuilding industry comes into public ownership the better.