UK Defence secretary Michael Fallon has been warned that there will be further delays to the government’s flagship Trident programme, unless the long-running pensions’ dispute at AWE plc – the Atomic Weapons Establishment – is settled.
Gail Cartmail, acting general secretary of Unite, the country’s largest union, has written to the defence secretary asking for ‘an urgent meeting’, as the ‘betrayed’ workers at the AWE gear up for two more days of strike action on Tuesday 14 February and Tuesday 21 February.
Six hundred employees, members of Unite, will strike at AWE’s two sites at Aldermaston and Burghfield in Berkshire for 24 hours on both days, starting at 00.01. Picket lines at both sites will be in place from 06.30 on both days.
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.
It has been replaced with a defined contribution scheme, which relies on the vagaries of the stock markets and where the final retirement income is not guaranteed.
In her letter to the defence secretary, Gail Cartmail said: “Many of our members have given decades of service to AWE and without their skill and professionalism the Trident programme would not have been delivered.”
She warned that the forthcoming two days of strike action will cause ‘further delays to the Trident programme’.
She added: “Our members at Aldermaston and Burghfield work on MoD sites for an employer whose only contract is with the MoD delivering the Trident nuclear programme.
“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. This would keep faith with the promise made by a previous Conservative government and is in the gift of the current administration.
“They still feel part of the MoD providing an invaluable service for the UK, working with hazardous materials, producing and assembling the Trident nuclear warheads which is why they feel so strongly about this second class treatment.”
Unite is balloting its members for strike action and industrial action short of a strike to renew its mandate in this dispute. The ballot closes on Friday 24 February.
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