We hope the meeting with the minister this morning has opened up the possibility of genuine negotiations to take place for the first time, says Unite, GMB and Aslef
Unions representing workers in the nuclear sector, delayed announcement of strike ballot after urgent talks today (25 January), resulted in an agreement that further urgent talks will take place over £660 million ‘broken promises’ nuclear pensions' dispute.
The unions met in London this morning with Jesse Norman, energy and industrial strategy minister to try and resolve this dispute over changes to nuclear workers’ legally protected pension benefits.
The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) is starting a process of statutory consultation about proposed government cuts to final salary pension benefits across the NDA estate from 9 January 2017 until Friday 10 March 2017.
A total of 16,000 workers will be affected working for Sellafield (Cumbria), Magnox (Anglesey), Ayrshire, Dorset, Dumfriesshire, Essex, Gloucestershire, Gwynedd, Kent, Oxfordshire, Somerset, (Suffolk), Direct Rail Services (Cumbria), Dounreay Site Restoration Ltd (Caithness), Low Level Waste Repository (Cumbria) and International Nuclear Services (Cumbria, Warrington).
Government’s expectation is that the final salary pension schemes in place across the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority estate will have been reformed by April 2018.
Unite national officer for energy Kevin Coyne, said: “We had a frank and wide-ranging meeting with the energy minister Jesse Norman today.
"More talks will be held to discuss further options relating to the pensions of our members working for the NDA, with a deadline for a conclusion of those negotiations in a fortnight’s time.
“We hope that a constructive settlement can be reached that will ensure that the pensions, which our members have saved for so hard over many years, receive adequate protections underpinned by copper-bottomed guarantees.
"At this stage, industrial action can be seen as a last resort.”
Justin Bowden, GMB national secretary for the nuclear sector, said: "GMB has delayed announcing the start of the strike ballot process following constructive talks with the minister in which we impressed upon him the urgency of the situation.
"Whilst we are not out of the woods yet by any means, and this issue will continue to dominate the Copeland by-election, the meeting has opened up the possibility of genuine negotiations to take place for the first time around the £660 million broken promises nuclear pensions’ dispute.
“The talks will start immediately and the unions will meet again with the minister within the next fortnight.
“Since the days of the cold war, the deal for nuclear local communities has been that in exchange for the high risks associated with nuclear energy production and nuclear waste reprocessing these isolated communities had stable job opportunities, on decent terms and conditions and with secure pensions when production ceased.
"What is still proposed is a government betrayal of nuclear workers and their communities that calls into question that accord, with massive potential implications.”
Colin Smith, north west district organiser for Aslef, the train drivers' union, said: “Aslef welcomes new, urgent talks to address this vicious, premeditated and completely unprovoked attack on the pensions of nuclear workers, their families and communities.
"Reneging without embarrassment on pledges made by another Conservative prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, when the electricity industry was privatised in the 1990s can only end in confrontation.
“The politicians offered a social contract - in exchange for the risks associated with producing and reprocessing nuclear energy, which nobody really wants next door, nuclear communities had stable jobs, with proper terms and conditions, and secure pensions.”
Contact: Justin Bowden: 07710 631 351; GMB press office: 07958 156846 or firstname.lastname@example.org; Kevin Coyne on 07798 531006 or Unite Press office on Shaun.email@example.com; Colin Smith on 07977 142460