Unions and new owner row over Cammell future

A heated argument was expected this week as Cammell Laird’s new owner A&P Acquisitions met the company’s union officers to thrash out the troubled shipyard’s future.

Regional and national officers from the GMB and AEEU unions held talks on Wednesday with David Ring, chief executive of A&P, which bought Cammell Laird’s assets for £9m last Friday. The meeting took place at the Hilton hotel, Heathrow.

A spokesman for A&P told The Engineer: ‘David Ring will be saying that the ability of the company to get more work will be the factor that decides whether or not we can open the yards and that there can be no guarantees.’

The meeting was expected to be a stormy one especially following 117 redundancies made by the receiver Pricewaterhouse Coopers on Tuesday.

The unions also allege in a letter to DTI secretary Patricia Hewitt that A&P bought the yard only to kill off any threat of competition to its existing ship repair business on the south coast.

‘People are absolutely gutted. We are bitter and angry. We think there is a lot of underhand dealing going on here,’ said Dave Hulls, union steward for the GMB at Cammell’s Merseyside yard.

Behaviour questioned

The letter, signed by AEEU regional officer Edward Gilbertson, accuses A&P of deliberately seeking to create a monopoly.

‘The bid from A&P… gives cause for concern… A&P insisted the receivers should not disclose their interest in Cammell Laird… This behaviour has understandably heightened suspicion as to the reasons motivating A&P interest in Cammell Laird. [The deal] would give them a monopoly interest in the industry of immense proportions.’

A&P denied it asked the receiver to keep its bid secret and denied that it had refused to speak to the union.

‘The company has been very open with the government and we sought to meet the DTI when we were one of three bidders. We also have a series of meetings planned in the coming weeks with unions and local politicians,’ a spokesman said.

The DTI has passed the letter to the Office of Fair Trading, which investigates monopoly claims.

But Nick Granger, director of the Ship Builder and Ship Repairers Association, is not convinced that any monopoly exists.

‘It’s absolute nonsense. It shows no understanding of the market. This monopoly claim is just a red herring. If you take Cammell Laird’s capacity and A&P’s before this situation they represented 80% of the UK ship repair capacity. But neither claimed to only focus on the UK and in fact they operate in a European market, which is worth over $3bn a year.’

According to an OFT spokeswoman the monopoly investigation could last 45 working days because the complaint came from a third party. Normally companies would inform the OFT with a merger notice and hope to gain approval within 20 working days.

A spokesman for the AEEU told The Engineer: ‘Our position is that we are keen to maintain a viable future for the yard.’

Only all-inclusive bid

But A&P is the only company which offered to buy all Cammell Laird’s assets. The other two bids, which were supported by the unions, were management buyouts of up to two of Cammell Laird’s seven yards.

Cammell Laird once employed 2,200 people. It now has 79 employees. The redundancies this week bring the number of workers at Tyneside to 25, and 53 at Merseyside. Only one employee remains at Teeside.

Teeside and Tyneside have been mothballed while Merseyside completes trials of a ship for the Ministry of Defence.