The Scottish Government has pledged to do whatever it can to help the struggling engineering firm BiFab after “disputed payments” sparked a financial crisis there.
Economy Secretary Keith Brown said that while the difficulties were centred around a contract between private companies, ministers would “do what we can to help to try to achieve a solution”.
Burntisland Fabrications Ltd (BiFab) says it has been left facing a “critical cash position” as a result of ongoing contracts, with the firm having filed a notice of its intention to appoint administrators.
Despite the fact they may not get paid, staff there have voted to continue working until further notice.
BiFab, which makes equipment for both the oil and gas industry and the renewable energy sector, directly employs some 600 people at its yards in Burntisland and Methil in Fife and Arnish on the Isle of Lewis.
But Mr Brown said when contractors and subcontractors were included 1,400 jobs were linked to the firm’s survival.
Asked what the Scottish Government was doing to help, the Economy Secretary said: “This is a contract between private companies and the issues that have arisen have been between those private companies.
“But of course we are very interested and want to do what we can to help to try to achieve a solution.
“At root of course is the future of up to 600 people directly employed and 1,400 people in general including contractors and subcontractors.”
Unions claimed the engineering firm’s financial difficulties a direct result of the main Dutch-owned contractor, Seaway Heavy Lifting (SHL), not paying the company for contract work already completed with Unite Scottish Secretary Pat Rafftery stating BiFab is being “held to ransom”.
Mr Brown told MSPs: “It’s not so much delayed payments as disputed payments, which may of course lead to a delay in payments being made, that would be the nature of a dispute.
“That is more in the character of the issue we’re looking at than a delayed payment.”
He stressed that discussions were going on between the firm, the unions, Scottish Enterprise and the Scottish Government, saying ministers were “fully exploring all the options available to save the company and the jobs which depend on it”.
He added: “I do appreciate this is a very concerning time for the workforce but this government is committed to doing everything we can to find a positive solution to this situation.
“We want to see a solution at BiFab and ensure that Scottish engineering and manufacturing are central to the supply chain for the renewable energy sector and for oil and gas going forward.”
GMB Scotland secretary Gary Smith called on the Scottish Government to act quickly to “get to the root of this contractual dispute between BiFab and SHL”.
He also said there questions to be answered about how much the disputes payments amount to and the role of the UK Government.
Mr Smith said: “Today our members are working for free to defend their jobs and families. We need that same determination and desire to be matched in the corridors of power and their influence brought to bear on the private interest groups behind this project.”
Unite Scotland secretary Pat Rafferty stated: “There are 1,400 jobs at stake here along with the future of Scottish renewables manufacturing - and what we have is the questions piling up relentlessly and nobody giving out any answers.
“This is a Scottish project for SSE, the Scottish energy giant, for a massive Scottish windfarm with a Scottish company delivering on an agreed contract.
“Where we are now is that a costs dispute with the Dutch owned main contractor SHL seems to be holding the future of all of this to ransom.
“Make no mistake if BiFab does go into administration the trades union will not stand by and watch these yards being asset stripped.
“The Scottish Government has to get answers and get them now from BiFab, SHL, SSE - and Westminster to boot.”