Make aerospace funding deliver for UK workers

Unite is calling on both government and employers to invest in workers – or risk losing UK’s world leading industries

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Unite’s 60,000 plus members working in aerospace and shipbuilding are urging both government and employers to invest in workers as a top priority – if the UK is to keep its’ world leading position. Unite convenor at Rolls-Royce, Mark Porter writes:

Aerospace and shipbuilding – two high skilled UK engineering industries, have long been synonymous with quality and excellence. Nations across the globe have, for many years, sought out our shipyards, commissioned our production plants to own the most cutting edge engines, body parts, planes and ships that money can buy. Because if you want the best, you buy British.

But that impeccable reputation is now at risk – as is the future of these irreplaceable businesses, skills, jobs and communities that work in and live by these industries.

Today, (Wednesday 30 March) myself and fellow Unite reps from Rolls-Royce, BAE Systems and Airbus will meet with MPs in parliament. We’ll be delivering the message that while yesterday’s announcement to boost Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) funding is welcome, it will not be enough to future proof our industries and protect UK jobs.

What we need from the government is a fully developed plan for the future because without one, that money will not bring about the new jobs for the next generation of workers in Lancashire, Derby and Broughton in Wales.

And let’s not forget, this is public money so the government has an obligation to invest it in keeping high skilled jobs in the UK, not in France, Poland or elsewhere.

The Covid-19 crisis has been catastrophic for the aerospace and shipbuilding industries. But if we are to emerge stronger from the pandemic and in a position to meet future demand then investing in workforce training and development, quality apprenticeships and better working conditions will be key. That means the sector also needs guarantees that ATI funding will continue well beyond the next three years.

There are over 60,000 Unite members working in aerospace and shipbuilding. The  national industrial sector committee believes that to help our industries on the flight path to recovery will require a commitment from both government and industry, to maintain and create high skilled, cradle to grave jobs for UK workers and stop off-shoring.

The turmoil of global lockdowns, travel restrictions, combined with a free fall in orders for new aircraft and ships as well as the collapse of maintenance, repair and operation (MRO) requirements, has impacted on employees from the smallest supplier to largest original equipment manufacturer (OEM).  

Over 70k jobs gone

The reality is that the UK has lost over 70,000 jobs alongside desperately needed investment in people and innovation – not to mention the steep decline in apprenticeships which is contributing to an ever growing skills gap.

The UK aerospace industry is a sector to be proud of. We’re a world leader, second largest in the world, with a combined annual turnover of over £33.9bn. But we won’t stay as one unless the government is bold and steps up.

The sectors employ 114,000 people directly and four times that many indirectly. Given just how vital these industries are to the UK economy, a failure to invest in the high skilled workers of today and tomorrow would be disastrous.

We have been disappointed by the number of employers that have sought to use the pandemic to make permanent cuts to employees’ terms and conditions. This is simply not acceptable. Many of our members went without pay rises, bonuses and accepted cuts to other contractual rights to support their employers. Some lost thousands of pound in retirement income when their final pension salary schemes were cut.  

Unite believes workers should be treated better. We want a commitment that should new Covid variants emerge and more restrictions be required, that any new measures be only temporary in their nature to help support employers as the recovery continues.

Workers must not pay for pandemic

We are clear that workers must not be made to pay for the pandemic in the same way they had to shoulder the cost of the financial crisis in 2008. The price of which was a decade of austerity and wage stagnation.

Now with the costs of fuel, food and energy rocketing, a national insurance rise in April and inflation at its highest level for 30 years, Unite is more determined than ever to defend our members from this unprecedented squeeze on their living standards.

But nor can we ignore the acceleration of the climate emergency and the demand for cleaner and greener travel over land, sea and air. This will see increased demand for new ships and aircraft and as business and investors alike look to meet their environmental, social and governance obligations (ESG), simply focusing on the ‘E’ aspect would be unwise.

We, therefore want companies to commit to putting in place policies and rewards that truly reflect the value that their employees provide. With this in mind, greater consideration should be afforded to the ‘S’ of ESG compliance.

The next generation of aircraft and ships will not be built by CEOs in the boardroom.  They will be built and maintained by skilled workers, turning new ideas and designs into products from which businesses can generate future profits.

Therefore, we are urging the government and our companies to focus on retaining the skills needed for our industries and the workforce skills of the future by investing in its people. Otherwise, these generational skills will be lost, along with the revenue and wealth they bring to every part of the UK.

And make no mistake. Once they’re gone, they’ll be lost forever.


See here for more on Unite’s aerospace and shipbuilding sector

By Mark Porter, Unite convenor at Rolls-Royce

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