Thursday, April 11, 2002

More than 700 contracting and civil engineering workers voted for an unofficial strike at Sellafield yesterday. The decision to walk out until Monday will affect several projects including the commissioning of the MOX plant at Sellafield.

At a mass meeting at Yottenfews yesterday morning there were angry scenes as workers learned that the normal procedures for dealing with the use of outside contractors had failed to resolve the issue. Already 71 workers have been made redundant.

The crucial vote on whether to strike for just one day or through until next week was close at one stage, but after the ranks of workers were split, a head count gave the result 426 for a strike until Monday and 296 for the one day stoppage. There will be a further mass meeting next Wednesday for an update on the situation.

Sam Morton, shop steward for Amicus (AEEU), said before the vote: "We fear this is the thin end of the wedge in terms of downgrading many jobs. We have just seen packages of work handed out to a firm that pays lower wages and looks set to bring in travelling men."

The factor that has sparked the union action is that 50 men were made redundant by Shepleys and 21 by APEL (formerly William Press). Meanwhile a Yorkshire firm allegedly paying 6.10 per hour has moved on site taking over several projects.

There were cries from the mass meeting that "if we let them get away with this everyone on this site will end up on 6 an hour". Another worker referred to previous disputes when he shouted: "People crossing picket lines is what's wrong with this site.''

Regional officer Grant Cattanach added: "We have just had a nationally accepted pay deal for two years and then without any negotiation they start laying off and handing work over to contractors offering lower wage rates. It is understandable that the men are concerned, these sort of moves could affect all 800 men.''

Another shop steward, David Ferguson from Shepleys staff, added: "The correct procedures were raised with BNFL but BNFL have failed to respond.''

Mr Morton said: "Our lads did all the tricky work and then they farmed the follow-up work out. They want everyone to be on 16,000 a won't wash.''

Sellafield press spokesperson Ali McKibbin said: "BNFL is aware of the situation and hope it can be resolved as soon as possible. It is a local and unofficial dispute that is not supported by the union national officers. It is a matter between the contractors and their employees.''

The contract workers were joined by civic engineering workers at the mass meeting.

nA party of 18 Norwegian businessmen, opposed to Sellafield's nuclear discharges, visited the area yesterday after flying into Carlisle airport. They visited the Neptun's Eye sculpture on the beach.