On Monday workers at the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) were out on strike for the sixteenth time since November as part of a long-running pensions dispute. More than 700 workers are striking, with further strike days already called for the 10th and 18th May.
The workers, represented by Unite the Union, are opposing plans to cut their pensions. Their pension scheme was apparently protected during the privatisation of AWE in the 1990s. After AWE chose to ignore a counter-proposal submitted by Unite on April 13th, the union called strikes on the 10th and 18th May, coinciding with the regulatory ‘site exercise’ day when AWE runs through nuclear incident scenarios on site with local councils.
Research undertaken on behalf of the Nuclear Information Service by Tom Youngman shows that the Lockheed-Serco-Jacobs consortium has extracted almost twice as much profit over the lifetime of their contract than the figure claimed for the deficit in the pension scheme. The factsheet can be downloaded below.
Since the current consortium took over management of AWE in 2000, costs have increased fivefold. Meanwhile the Ministry of Defence has given substantial rewards to the company despite poor performance: according to AWE PLC’s company accounts, the private companies managing the business extracted £803.9 million in post-tax dividends between 2000 and 2015. This is in stark comparison to the £461.6 million pension pot shortfall given as rationale for the pension cuts.
Over the course of Lockheed-Serco-Jacobs’ management of AWE, an average of 9.1% of the budget provided by the MoD has gone directly to the managing consortium.
Update 10th May 2017:
The exercise planned for today was due to simulate an emergency at AWE Aldermaston, to allow the local authority and the emergency services to practice their response. As the on-site emergency response teams are thought to have joined the strike today, the exercise could not go ahead.
AWE confirmed that the exercise had been rescheduled and said in a statement: "The safety and security of AWE staff and the general public is our top priority and we conduct regular site exercises to demonstrate our emergency arrangements. Ongoing contingency planning enables us to be flexible with dates of activities, such as this site exercise". A new date for the exercise is yet to be set.
Bob Middleton, regional officer for Unite said: "It is the view of Unite the Union that Aldermaston and Burghfield are not safe when our members are on strike as both sites have no emergency services and I have written a letter to AWE management to tell them this."
Talks between Unite and AWE are scheduled for tomorrow to discuss proposals put forward by the union. If they are unsuccessful the union is expected to re-ballot for further strike action.