Angry workers at AWE plc - the Atomic Weapons Establishment – will be demonstrating outside the constituency office of defence secretary Michael Fallon in Sevenoaks, Kent at noon today (Tuesday 14 February), as part of their long-running pensions’ dispute.
The workers, members of Unite, the country’s largest union, will be staging the protest outside the MP’s office at Becket House, 13 Vestry Road, Sevenoaks, TN14 5EL between 12.30 to 13.30, as their 600 colleagues at AWE’s two sites at Aldermaston and Burghfield in Berkshire hold a 24-hour strike, which started at 00.01 today (Tuesday 14 February), on the pensions issue.
The reps had asked to meet with Sir Michael Fallon, MP for Sevenoaks, during this week’s parliamentary recess – but have received no reply.
The dispute centres on copper-bottomed pledges made in the early 1990s by the then-Tory government to AWE workers regarding the future of their pensions, once they transferred to the private sector.
These promises have now been broken as AWE bosses closed the defined benefit pension scheme on 31 January, leaving employees facing thousands of pounds being slashed from their retirement incomes.
Unite regional secretary for the south east Jennie Formby said: “Our committed members feel betrayed and badly let down by what has happened to their pensions and they don’t deserve to lose thousands of pounds when they retire.
“They are working hard to deliver the government’s flagship Trident nuclear programme, but they appear to have hit a brick wall, so they are taking their case this morning to Michael Fallon’s constituency in their bid for pensions’ justice.”
In their letter to the defence secretary, Unite reps at AWE wrote: “The members of our union are dedicated to their job, producing and assembling the Trident nuclear warheads. They work with hazardous materials and accept that this is ‘part of the job’.
“They have to undergo strict security vetting and are bound by the Official Secrets Act, even when they retire. This is why they feel so betrayed by the government and will lose thousands of pounds in pension benefits, if the defined contribution scheme is the only pension scheme that they can join.
“They are requesting that they be allowed to join the Principle Civil Service Pension Scheme as they work on a MoD site producing work solely for the MoD. They do not believe the defined contribution scheme that is now in place is acceptable.”
Unite members, who work as managers, and craft and manual workers, are furious at the broken promises made in the early 1990s, which were underpinned by a ministerial statement to the Commons. The union said that if those promises had been honoured it would not have resulted in the scheme’s closure on 31 January.
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. The union said that the consortium made a profit in 2015 of £57 million on total revenues of £978 million.
Notes to editors:
AWE scheme members were paying pay 10 per cent of their salary into the defined benefit scheme and the employer paying 26 per cent. Under the AWE’s new defined contribution scheme, employees pay from three per cent to eight per cent or more; with AWE paying from nine per cent (if an employee pays three per cent) to 13 per cent (if an employee pays eight per cent or more).
For more information please contact: Unite senior communications officer Shaun Noble on 07768 693940
Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest trade union with over 1.4 million members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.