THE SCOTTISH Government-owned shipyard Ferguson Marine has launched an investigation in a row over the drafting in of migrant workers while existing staff were let go.
The row began last week when police were called after migrant workers were drafted in to work at the shipyard at the centre of Scotland’s ferry-building fiasco during lockdown and breached Covid-19 restrictions.
Some 13 workers of Eastern European descent were seen arriving at Ferguson Marine’s site in Port Glasgow to pick up accommodation details.
One of the released workers, pipe fitter Brian Hamill says he is one of six men laid off in the run up to Christmas as there was no work , only to see some 13 workers of Eastern European origin being brought in shortly afterwards.
He says they were reassured by their sub-contractor that they would be re-started as soon as work was under way again.
The shipyard claimed the new staff were hired without their knowledge by a subcontractor as their workload had increased in relation to the much delayed lifeline island ferries – and admitted Covid rules were broken.
But Mr Hamill, 62, said the yard and ministers have questions to answer over their personnel practices.
He said: “I am utterly disgusted that Ferguson Marine has brought in workers from elsewhere.
“It is total mismanagement.
“We were there for three weeks and told that we would be laid off because the work we were there to do was not ready to start.
“They told us that we would be taken back on once it was ready.
“I feel like we have been told lies.”
Former leader of Inverclyde Council Chris McEleny said: “They’ve flown the workers into do they work, despite there being more than enough people based locally that could do the work.
“The yard saying the issue is [with]the subcontractors doesn’t really cut it as it’s ultimately the management of the yard that’s privatising to work on the cheap by sub contracting.”
Design change work to try to resolve Scots ferry building chaos being done in Romania
The company, who have been part of shipbuilding on the Clyde for more than 100 years, said all new staff have settled status in the UK.
After the Covid alert it was announced that the shipyard was being shutdown completely for a week in response to increased Covid-19 infection rates in the Inverclyde area and concerns about the new variant of the virus.
It was due to reopen last Monday with briefings to advise employees of any changes to Covid-19 measures and to ‘reinforce the need for personal responsibility in social distancing’.
A spokesperson for Ferguson Marine said they will investigate the details and “explore any issues and areas for improvement”.
“We recruit tradespeople via a framework of recruitment agencies on a contract basis to manage workforce numbers and costs in an efficient way in line with peaks and troughs in production.
“A recruitment agency supplied 30 contract tradespeople in autumn last year – approximately half of what we need.
“These vacancies were advertised and open for several months.
“As pipefitting is a critical part of the dual fuel ferry project and to avoid any further delays to the project, we increased the scope of work of HB Hydraulics to supply this resource.
“Our recruitment agency is set to launch an advertising campaign to recruit further tradespeople once Covid-19 restrictions are lifted.
“We are committed to investing in the skills required for the future through our ‘Grow Our Own’ programme to recruit and train tradespeople to meet business requirements going forward.”
Ministers have said they believe they were acting in the public interest in taking control of Ferguson Marine in August 2019, saving it from closure, rescuing more than 300 jobs, and ensuring that the two vessels under construction will be completed.
Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd – the taxpayer-funded company which buys and leases publicly-owned CalMac ships on behalf of the Scottish Government – awarded Ferguson’s, then owned by tycoon Jim McColl’s Clyde Blowers Capital, the £97m contract to build the ferries in 2015.
But the process was blighted by delays, a doubling of costs and a breakdown in relations between CMAL and shipyard bosses.
In August, it emerged that work in carrying out design changes to resolve the ferry fiasco was being carried out in Romania with the blessing of ministers.
Secret Scots shipyard deal wiped out £25m ferry completion bonds to allow state takeover
A £2.12m contract was awared without going to competitive tender to an offshore company to complete design changes for one long-delayed vessel due to service Scotland’s busiest ferry crossing.
The taxpayer-funded award was made last April to Isle of Man-based International Contract Engineering Ltd to supply engineering servies for the stalled construction of MV Glenn Sannox to “correct and complete” the design.
It emerged ICE’s work for on the project centres around 80 specialists at a Romania base.
According to an official progress report, while ICE is “UK-owned” it has an operating base is in Romania, employing over 300 graduate naval architects and marine engineers “and have a track record of delivering complex vessel designs to shipyards across the world”.