Angry workers at AWE plc - the Atomic Weapons Establishment – are ramping up their long-running pensions’ dispute with eight more days of strike action this spring.
Unite, the country’s largest union which represents about 600 workers, is due to meet AWE management for talks tomorrow (Thursday 9 March) under the auspices of the conciliation service Acas.
The workers, who are pivotal to delivering the Trident nuclear programme, will strike for 24 hours from 00.01 at AWE’s two sites at Aldermaston and Burghfield in Berkshire on 23 and 27 March; 6, 10, 20 and 24 April; and 4 and 8 May. This will bring the number of strike days since last November to 16.
The workers have renewed their industrial action mandate in a new ballot which saw 80 per cent vote to strike over the new defined contribution pension scheme being the only scheme they can join and also being denied readmission to the Ministry of Defence scheme.
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 officer Bob Middleton 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.
“The strength of feeling was overwhelmingly expressed in the second industrial action ballot and the announcement of eight more strike days this spring.
“We are talking to the employer under the auspices of Acas tomorrow (Thursday). There is a solution that could resolve this dispute and that is to allow the AWE workforce to join the Principal Civil Service Pension Scheme.
“We believe that the continuing strike action is adversely impacting on the Trident nuclear programme, which should give the management extra impetus to resolve this dispute.
“The essence of this dispute is that governments should honour the pledges they make to MPs and groups of workers – ministerial promises are not something to be lightly discarded for the benefit of corporate profit.”
Unite members, who work as managers, firefighters, 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 press office: 020 3371 2065.
- 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.