Workers at AWE plc – the Atomic Weapons Establishment – will be staging a second 24-hour strike on Tuesday (December 6) in the dispute over the threat to close the defined benefit pension scheme and substitute it with an inferior alternative.
Six hundred employees, members of Unite, will be striking at the AWE’s two sites at Aldermaston and Burghfield in Berkshire. The first one-day strike was on November 14.
AWE workers will be holding a lobby of the Houses of Parliament on December 6 and making appointments to see their local MP to raise their case.
The strike, which will start at just past midnight on December 6, follows the breakdown in talks this week after Unite presented the AWE management with counter proposals that were rejected out-of-hand.
The dispute has been given an extra edge by accusations that the Ministry of Defence (MoD) broke pension promises made a quarter of a century ago when the workforce was transferred to the private sector.
“We are deep into the territory of broken pension promises and a hardline management that rejected out-of-hand counter proposals that Unite put forward this week,” said Unite regional officer Bob Middleton.
“We know that the continuous overtime ban, work-to-rule and withdrawal of goodwill from November 15 have severely hit the work at AWE and it faces fines from the MoD because of this impact.
“But the top bosses don’t seem to care and are more intent on trying to undermine the unions’ stand in ensuring that our members receive the retirement income they were promised in the 1990s. Under the AWE’s new plans, our members are set to lose thousands of pounds when they retire which is just plain wrong.
“Our members’ solidarity is strong and further industrial action is on the cards in the run-up to Christmas and the New Year, unless the management starts to negotiate in a constructive fashion.”
Unite’s members, who work as managers, and craft and manual workers, are particularly irked at broken promises made by the MoD and 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 members have voted by 92 per cent for strike action and by 97 per cent for industrial action short of a strike.
Currently, AWE scheme members pay 10 per cent of their salary into the scheme and the employer pays 26 per cent. Under the AWE’s new proposals, employees will be able to pay from three per cent to nine per cent; with AWE paying from seven per cent (if an employee pays three per cent) to 13 per cent (if an employee pays nine per cent or more).
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.
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.