Defence giant BAE Systems told staff yesterday that lay-offs at Govan and Scotstoun would be phased over the next three years, along with 740 redundancies at Portsmouth.
The Clyde yards are set to survive with a slimmed-down workforce, although there are fears independence could mean the loss of UK navy orders and lead to the demise of Scottish shipbuilding.
But Mr Salmond said political rows over the issue had resulted in “focus” being lost from the more immediate loss of 835 jobs.
“This is the issue that’s facing these people right now,” he said at First Minister’s Questions. “I spoke to BAE – I spoke to Mike Ord, the managing director of naval ships – about the progression in discussions with unions that have been taking place.
“We’ve now got visibility on the timescale of these redundancies, which is very helpful in terms of operating the PACE [Partnership Action for Continuing Employment] programme. On the substantial skill-set that many of these people have, we should be optimistic of even this difficult task of placing as many as possible into gainful employment. We’ve been assured of co-operation of unions and BAE management in order to do that as a priority.”
Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and finance secretary John Swinney held talks with management and workers at the Clyde yards last week after news of the lay-offs emerged.
BAE Systems told staff at its UK shipyards that 1,775 job losses would be phased in over three years. About 940 staff posts and 170 agency workers will go at Portsmouth, which is also losing shipbuilding.
The 835 jobs will go at Govan and Scotstoun, and at Rosyth in Fife and at the firm’s Filton office, near Bristol.
Workers were told that a trawl for voluntary redundancies would begin next Monday. They were also informed that the redundancies would affect every part of the workforce.
Jamie Webster, the GMB union’s convener at BAE’s Govan yard, gave a guarded reaction to the latest news.
He said: “On the plus side, the redundancies are scheduled over three years, which eased the pain slightly. On the down side, some of the sections are getting hit very, very quickly.”
He added that a “significant proportion” of the workforce was now ageing, which he said should “ease the strain a bit”.
The company said it was the start of an “extensive” consultation process aimed at mitigating the impact of the cuts.
A BAE Systems spokesman said: “We have held two days of constructive discussions with our trade unions.
“This is the start of an extensive consultation process and we are committed to working tirelessly together to explore all potential options to mitigate the impact of our proposals on our employees. It is inappropriate to comment further at this stage.”
Glasgow Labour MSP Drew Smith said the SNP’s desire for Scottish independence was the main danger to the long-term future of the city’s yards, because a Yes vote would see the Clyde lose out on the orders to build the new generation of Type-26 frigates.
He said: “Given the Clyde yards are owned by a UK contractor which relies on UK defence contracts and wants to build UK defence ships in Glasgow, the biggest threat to the Govan and Scotstoun yards building the Type-26 frigates is his [Alex Salmond’s] desire for Scotland to leave the United Kingdom.”
But the First Minister said this argument had been rejected in the House of Commons and he called on all Scottish politicians to rally behind the shipyard workers “regardless of the constitutional circumstances”.
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