The Whitehaven News
Thursday, February 08, 2001
SELLAFIELD STRIKE AVERTED AT LAST MINUTE
HUNDREDS of Sellafield contractors held back on wildcat strike action at the last minute yesterday - sparing BNFL embarrassment while the latest emergency exercise was taking place.
Nuclear inspectors were at the site where construction workers were in cabins and seething at not getting their full pay.
The men, who are furious about losing their daily bonuses when emergency exercises are staged, were ready to hold an all-out strike. It would have closed down the construction site, disrupted the emergency exercise and embarrassed both BNFL and contract companies in front of the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate.
At the last minute, following a show of hands, contractors decided to heed union advice not to take unofficial action, and instead attempt to have their grievance settled by negotiation.
Union official Grant Cattanach said: "Unless we get a negotiated settlement, things are going to sour and sour until the men are left with no choice but to take industrial action which is in nobody's interests.
"All they want is fairness because none of the thousands of BNFL employees lose any money when these exercises take place."
During the emergency exercises, which are held four or five times a year and usually involve a simulated release of radioactivity, contractors lose up to £12 apiece because they have to stay in cabins until given the all-clear.
Anger flared among men when they were offered a cover-all, £8 a man in lieu of losing bonus pay during several previous exercises.
The offer has been overwhelmingly rejected and more talks are expected to take place shortly at the next meeting of the project joint council, made up of construction site companies and union representatives.
Mr Cattanach said: "The offer is seen as derisory and we are looking for an improvement.
"Everybody else gets paid, so why should the lads on the construction site lose money?
"These exercises started out as two a year, now they've gone up to four or five and can go on as long as four hours.
"It means the men have to stay put in their cabins until the exercises are declared over and it isn't right they should lose so much money."
Although the site's 'blue book' agreement rules out the bonus payment, Mr Cattanach said: "This was designed for a one-off exercise not a whole series of them in the course of a year."
One construction site shop steward said: "We fully accept the need for emergency exercises, they are in the interests of safety, but they should not be at our cost."
BNFL said yesterday that Sellafield held two formal exercise demonstrations a year and four to six others involving communications and roll calls to make sure everyone was properly trained.