Members of Unite have begun to ballot for industrial action as part of a campaign to save the historic Rolls-Royce plant at Barnoldswick in Lancashire.
The iconic site, which is the cradle of the jet engine, has been owned by Rolls Royce since 1943.
In August, Rolls-Royce announced that it was off-shoring the production of its Trent Engines blades, which are made at the plant, to Singapore, with the loss of 350 jobs.
Ballot papers began to be sent out today Tuesday, September 29 and the ballot will close on Friday, October 16. Should the workforce vote in favour of industrial action, strikes could begin in early November.
According to Unite, the workforce feels betrayed by Rolls-Royce and that their long-standing goodwill has been abused. When the Singapore factory was established in 2009, the company offered assurances that work from Barnoldswick would not be transferred and in a further insult, the Barnoldswick workers were required to train the Singapore workforce.
In recent years, Barnoldswick workers have accepted changes to shifts and terms and conditions and hundreds of voluntary redundancies, in order to remain financially viable. Furthermore, at the beginning the pandemic they also agreed to a 10 per cent cut in pay.
Prior to the announcement of the compulsory redundancies, the Unite reps at the factory were working on proposals to introduce short-time working to save jobs at no cost to the employer but the company’s announcement destroyed the possibility of this job-saving proposal.
The resulting job losses will mean that just 150 workers will be left at Barnoldswick, raising questions about its viability. Over the last 12 months there have been over 350 jobs lost through voluntary severance. Two years ago Rolls Royce employed over 1,150 people at Barnoldswick.
The proposed job losses and threat to the factory has created a huge backlash in the town, with shops, community groups and local MPs actively backing the union’s campaign to save the factory.
Unite regional officer Ross Quinn said, “Industrial action is never taken lightly but our members will not allow this historic factory to close without a fight. The workers feel totally betrayed by Rolls-Royce’s management.
“This site is the heart and soul of jobs in this area, so the whole town is behind the campaign to keep the factory not just open but with a long term viable future,” he added.
“Rolls-Royce has been a vital part of this town for nearly 80 years and plays a key role in underpinning the local economy.
“As the cradle of the jet engine, the workers and the wider community will not let that heritage simply disappear and we’re determined to persuade Rolls-Royce to act honourably,” Quinn continued.
“Rolls-Royce made cast iron commitments when it opened its factory in Singapore that work at Barnoldswick would not suffer and the workforce rightly believes that these commitments must be honoured.”
Unite assistant general secretary for manufacturing Steve Turner added,”Unite has been working with employers’ federations, devolved governments and cross party MPs to drive the government to do more for this industry so that employers like Rolls-Royce do not eye up overseas alternatives.
“For months we have championed short-time working as a way to put stability into the industry and to save the skills which are at the heart of this community,” he noted.
“Now, with the government’s job support scheme, Rolls-Royce needs to step back from the brink, reverse this decision, invest in its loyal UK workforce and preserve blade production at Barnoldswick.”
By Barckley Sumner