Thursday, July 26, 2001

The threat of rare militant action hangs over Sellafield if the 4,000-strong manual workforce votes against BNFL's latest two-year pay offer.

Workers are already said to be angry and upset that BNFL has failed to deliver what it promised two years ago in the single contract deal.

Sellafield union officials are about to put the company's pay offer out to a secret postal ballot among their membership.

A "no" vote is likely to lead to another ballot on whether to take industrial action.

Papers leaked to The Whitehaven News about difficult pay negotiations during the past two months came with a scribbled message: "It's time to take them on, the last thing BNFL want is strike action with the Japanese order in the balance."

The threat comes at a time when loss-making BNFL is desperate to regain the confidence of customers and get the government to licence the Mox plant.

Staff throughout BNFL have agreed to accept an improved offer and, in a dramatic turn of events this week, national union officers decided to recommend acceptance to the industrials at all four of the company's sites.

But shop stewards at Sellafield say they are still unimpressed by the deal on the table and a straw poll among the workforce has come up with an overwhelming rejection.

One of the shop stewards who declined to be named said: "There is a lot of unhappiness at Sellafield. We are going into a third year's pay deal when the company have failed to deliver what they promised in the previous two.

"There is also dissent over the single contract. The workforce was promised benefits which they are still waiting to see."

The leaked documents were copies of letters sent to shop stewards spelling out a worsening industrial relations situation.

Signed by Jack Dromey, the London-based trade union secretary for the BNFL Joint Industrial Council, one of the earlier letters accuses BNFL of "abandoning partnership in favour of treating a loyal workforce with contempt" by tabling the lowest pay offer in the public sector.

He went on: "The trade union side believes it to be without precedent that BNFL should table a poor first and final offer, saying like it or lump it."

Mr Dromey said yesterday: "The trade union side representing all four sites is recommending a final improved offer for acceptance as the best that can be achieved by negotiations.

"Crucial to this is an agreement that BNFL will honour the new company contract obligation to end the second-class status of industrial employees, including equalisation of shift payments. A timetable has been agreed."

He claimed that BNFL had "torn up" a pledge in the contract to end unfair and out-dated discrimination against industrial employees but the company now promised full implementation of the contract.

"We can settle now from a position of strength otherwise the only way to make further progress would be sustained and effective industrial action," said Mr Dromey.

l The improved offer accepted by staff but not manual workers gives a 2.75 per cent rise on basic pay and allowances, 200 on shift allowances plus increased bonuses and agreement to hold talks on other cash issues.