Workers at AWE plc - the Atomic Weapons Establishment – are staging a 24-hour strike today (Monday 14 November) in the dispute over the threat to close the defined benefit pension scheme and substitute it with an inferior alternative.
Six hundred employees, members of Unite, the UK’s largest union, were picketing the AWE’s two sites at Aldermaston and Burghfield in Berkshire, along with members of the Prospect union.
Unite regional officer Bob Middleton said: “Today’s strike has been strongly supported by members of Unite and Prospect – it is a very successful action. More industrial action is on the cards, unless there is substantial movement on the pensions' issue.”
The two sites are at: AWE Aldermaston - AWE Aldermaston, Reading, Berkshire, RG7 4PR; and at AWE Burghfield - Burghfield, Reading RG30 3RR.
Unite south east regional secretary Jennie Formby will tell a rally at Aldermaston later this morning: “Unite won’t simply stand by while the futures of our members and their families are put at risk by employers who jump too quickly to attack the pensions that they’ve worked for all their lives.
“Unite has joined up the dots as to what is happening at various organisations wishing to close their defined pension schemes – and we are drawing a deep line in the sand.
“Recently, carmaker BMW, US multinational Honeywell, Gatwick Airport Ltd, Diageo and the Post Office have all announced that they are planning to close their defined benefit pension schemes. Unite is pledged to fight the move to the defined contribution option by all these organisations.”
Unite’s members, who work as managers, and craft and manual workers, are particularly irked at broken promises on pensions made by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) in the 1990s when the workforce was transferred to the private sector. The union said that if those promises had been honoured it would not have precipitated plans to close the scheme at the end of the year.
Unite members voted by 92 per cent for strike action and by 97 per cent for industrial action short of a strike.
Bob Middleton added: “AWE management needs to honour its pension promises and stop its dash to close the final salary pension scheme which will rob loyal workers of thousands of pounds in retirement income.
“The sense of betrayal AWE workers feel has only been compounded by the MoD refusal to stand by promises it made over pensions in the 1990s.
“We urge AWE bosses to recognise the anger brewing within its workforce and negotiate meaningfully to avoid further strike action over the coming weeks.”
Unite said that there was an accelerating trend of companies closing their defined benefit pension schemes, based on an individual’s career earnings, and replacing them with defined contribution ones that rely on the roller-coaster vagaries of the stock market.
The union said that company bosses saw defined benefit pensions as ‘a soft target’ to save money for the benefit of shareholders – the most extreme example being the BHS pensions’ scandal.
Currently, AWE scheme members pay 10 per cent of their salary into the scheme and the employer pays 26 per cent. The new pension proposal would involve AWE contributing nine per cent and employees contributing whatever they wished.
AWE plc, which employs about 4,000 people, is a consortium of two American-owned companies Lockheed Martin and Jacobs Engineering, and UK-listed Serco.
Notes to editors:
For more information please contact Unite senior communications officer Shaun Noble on 020 3371 2060 or 07768 693940.
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Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest trade union with over 1.4 million members working across all sectors of the economy.