Bosses at AWE plc - the Atomic Weapons Establishment – are being urged to have urgent talks, after staff voted overwhelmingly to strike over the threat to close the defined benefit pension scheme and substitute it with an inferior alternative.
Unite, the country’s largest union, called on management to hold talks on the pensions’ issue, otherwise a campaign of industrial action is on the cards.
Workers, members of Unite, the UK’s largest union, voted by 92 per cent for strike action and by 97 per cent for industrial action short of a strike.
The staff at AWE sites at Aldermaston and Burghfield in Berkshire are angry over the company’s decision to close the scheme on 31 December this year.
Unite’s members are particularly furious 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 regional officer Bob Middleton said: “Unite has a massive mandate to take strike action over plans to close the defined benefit pension scheme.
“The large vote for industrial action was given an extra edge by the betrayal of promises over pensions made by the MoD in the 1990s.
“We are calling on the AWE management to hold urgent talks on the pensions’ issue; otherwise we will have no option than to call for a campaign of industrial action, including strikes.
“It is a disgrace that the UK government, which is constantly harking on about the importance of the Trident programme, is not prepared to resolve this matter.
“The reason given for the proposed closure is that there is a pension deficit, but Unite has argued that, following members increasing their contributions, there has not been an opportunity to establish whether this increase will start to reduce the deficit. It is our view that it will.”
In recent weeks, carmaker BMW; US multinational Honeywell; Gatwick Airport Ltd; and the Post Office have all announced that they planning to close their defined benefit pensions – and Unite has pledged to fight the move to the defined contribution option by all these organisations. On Monday (31 October), the union said drinks behemoth Diageo wanted to change its final salary pension scheme into a career average one.
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, 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. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- 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.