Rosyth dockyard workers breath a sigh of relief

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By Amanda MacMillan

AFTER all the waiting and choppy waters of uncertainty, it was a huge sense of relief finally beginning to dawn across the grey skies of Rosyth on Monday.

Yet until the words utter from Chancellor George Osborne’s mouth that he really has sanctioned the go ahead for the two £5.2b aircraft carriers on the Forth and Clyde, the nerves will still shred.

Everyone around the Fife base – the workers, their families the businesses that rely on them, know what is at stake.

Fraser McRae, 21, a drawing office apprentice from Fife, said it had preyed on all their minds: “It’s good news. We weren’t sure if it was going ahead or not.

“Obviously with it coming up to Christmas as well you don’t want to hear about redundancies.”

Mr McRae has completed two years of his apprentice and has another two to go. Axing the contract would have been devastating for him.

He added: “I would have been more worried if I was near the end of my apprentice but I was worried about some of the other guys.

“If they did terminate the funding then I would lose my job when my contract finished.

“I would need to find work elsewhere which isn’t easy.

“Now there will be plenty of work.

“They have just took on more apprentices too so it’s good for them.

“It’s also providing jobs all over the country and not just here.”

Craig Henderson, 47,  a commissioning engineer from Glenrothes, has worked at the docks for 31 years.

For him, though, remains a health does of doubt about what may follow.

He said: “I’m pleased at the announcement, it’s good news.

“You are always worried because you hear about the different cuts.

“But I was more worried about the young boys.

“There are some people who work week to week but we work depending if there is a boat to work on.

“Sometimes what the government says you wonder if its worth the paper it’s written on.”

The decision being announced has been welcomed by union chiefs who believe that the announcement is great for the area.

Satnam Ner, chair of Prospect Rosyth Branch, said: “Clearly the announcement regarding the continuation of the aircraft carrier build contracts comes as a huge relief to everyone at Rosyth.

“We have to say however that the decision if made purely on financial grounds and on defence of the realm grounds has always been a no-brainer.

“But the workforce here have been haunted by bitter past experience – that investment of hundreds of millions of pounds does not guarantee that contractual commitments will be honoured.”

“Back in the 1990’s when the Conservative Government was last in power, there were decisions made purely on political grounds which saw Rosyth lose out on the refitting of the Trident carrying submarines, this resulted in the waste of years of preparatory work at huge cost to the taxpayer.

“The result here was very real – years of relentless and ongoing redundancies.

“And a repeat of this has always been at the back of our minds.

“Despite this and to their credit the 1400 strong workforce here have committed themselves to continuing with the project and have risen to meet all of the many challenges to date head on.

“The recent uncertainty surrounding the QEC has not helped the morale but going forward we hope to return back to the atmosphere of positivity and excitement which existed when the QEC contracts were first awarded.”

Raymond Duguid, chairman of Industrial Unions Rosyth, tried to be upbeat about what it means for the workforce.

He said: “It is great news. It’s eight years more work.

“The older workforce have been through something like this before.

“It is more the apprentices who have been brought in who have been worried.

“It gives us eight years more work and means that 1500 people will continue being employed.

“It is a lot of money going through the Fife economy.

“It really is positive news.” 

The go ahead of the aircraft carriers not only affects those who work at the docks but also local businesses and residents too.

Hannah Akkari, 22, trainee manager at the Cochranes Hotel in Rosyth said that the workers bring a lot of business into the hotel.

She said: “Many of them come here for their lunch and when they finish work.

“When they are not around here we get quite quiet so it’s good for our business too.

“A lot of people have just been taken on and a lot are apprentices and a lot have came from far away to work here too.”

A total of 42 apartments called Dockyard Digs are also being refurbished in the town to help give the yard workers a home away from home.

The apartments can house 126 people and are being offered to those who work on the dockyards.

The confirmation of funding for the carriers now means that work can go ahead as planned.

Michael Saunders, director of Netlatch who is in charge of Dockyard Digs, said:

“There has been a lot of interest but clearly everyone has been saying that they have to wait until the decision was made.

“Obviously we were keeping our fingers crossed.

“The contract is a large boost to the area.

“The main construction has started and will finish at the end of January/early February.

“It is not just people who are involved in the carriers who will stay but other people who work at the docks.”

The go-ahead on the building work mean that construction workers on the site no longer need to worry.

Richard Havard, 32, from Rosyth, said: “It means we have got plenty of work to keep us going.”

Darren McCormack, 24, from Rosyth, added: “I am happy for the community.

“It gives us some job security as well.”

But it was the younger among the men, Alan Bower, 19, from Dunfermline, who summed it up in the simplest of fashions.

He said: “I am apprentice, it is good to know my job is safe.”

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