Rolls Royce’s announcement that it will close its factory in Barnoldswick from this Friday (November 25) until after Christmas, while offshoring work around the globe, has been described as an act of ‘industrial self-mutilation’ by Unite the union, which represents workers at the plant.
Unite members have been undertaking targeted strike action since November 6, which was due to end on December 24, in a campaign to secure the future of the historic factory, the cradle of the jet engine. The campaign has become known as the ‘Battle for Barnoldswick’.
In a briefing staff were told that “on the basis of health and safety” the site would close for an extended Christmas shutdown and workers would not return until after Christmas.
They were also informed that work currently undertaken at Barnoldswick will be immediately transferred to Japan, Singapore and Spain.
Rolls-Royce has further announced that workers who are not part of the current targeted industrial action will be furloughed from Monday November 30 until Friday December 18 and will receive 80 per cent of their pay during this time.
The ‘Rolls-Royce furlough’ is not part of the government’s Job Retention Scheme, nor is it something that has been agreed with Unite. As a consequence Unite is seeking urgent clarification and is considering a legal challenge to ensure the workers who were not on strike receive 100 per cent of their wages.
Unite regional officer Ross Quinn said, “We have consistently called on Rolls Royce to work with us to find the resolution that the members who have given their working lives to Rolls Royce deserve.
“However the company has shown absolutely no appetite to resolve the dispute. The decision to lock workers out of Barnoldswick before Christmas and to immediately offshore work at the factory demonstrates that Rolls-Royce has no intention of negotiating or consulting its loyal workers on its plans.
“Workers at Barnoldswick, who take huge pride in their work, began targeted industrial action as a last resort in order to ensure the future of the historic factory,” Quinn added.
“By its actions today it appears that Rolls-Royce is simply not prepared to enter into negotiations and to preserve this historic site. Instead it has undertaken this course of action which damages workers, the local community and the historic Rolls-Royce brand.
“We remain committed to finding a resolution and call on the company to meet with Unite immediately before they do irreparable damage to this workforce and community.”
In August Rolls-Royce announced that it intended to offshore the work on its Trent jet engine blades from Barnoldswick to a site in Singapore, with the loss of 350 jobs. Unite has warned this would make the factory, which Rolls-Royce has operated for over 70 years, potentially unviable.
The loss of jobs or the potential closure of the site would have a devastating effect on the town and the community of Barnoldswick where Rolls-Royce remains the principal employer.
Since the announcement, Unite has been campaigning to have the decision to offshore the jet engine blade work reversed or alternatively secure a commitment that similar work would be transferred to the site.
Rolls-Royce’s actions are especially controversial as it is currently in the process of securing around a billion pounds support from the government, as part of a £5 billion refinancing scheme, to contend with the global slowdown in the aerospace sector due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Unite national officer for aerospace Rhys McCarthy said, “Rolls-Royce actions are totally unacceptable. At a time when they should be entering into negotiations, they have instead locked workers out and moved work abroad.
“It is vitally important that the government and MPs make it entirely clear to Rolls-Royce that its actions are deplorable and should be reversed immediately.
“Since Rolls-Royce first announced its intentions, Unite has been crystal clear that it was fully prepared to negotiate to secure the future of Barnoldswick and this still remains the case.”
By Barckley Sumner