AWE accused of union busting

The Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) and its construction contractors NG Bailey and Costain have been accused of ‘union busting’ by the construction union Unite. The accusation refers to action taken against five workers which resulted in a walk-out of 200 NG Bailey workers on 20 September.

Five workers on the Project Mensa warhead assembly and disassembly facility were told to leave the project on Friday 17th September with no explanation. Four were members of Unite and one was a health and safety representative. As a result the rest of the workforce walked out in support on the following Monday. After intervention from the Unite union the five workers were transferred to other projects.

NG Bailey refused to give reasons for their removal and blamed the principle contractor Costain and the client AWE for the decision. Unite said there was considerable unrest within their membership on the workforce and demanded an agreed procedure for dealing with similar situations in the future, an apology, compensation and a guarantee that the workers will not be blacklisted.

Blacklisting is the practice of employers colluding to deny work to those involved in union activity, and has long been an issue in the construction industry. In 2019 eight construction firms, including Costain and Balfour Beatty, paid out a £35m settlement to workers for their role in the Consulting Association, an organisation that ran blacklists for the construction industry, often using information supplied by the police. The Consulting Association was the successor organisation to the infamous Economic League which ran from 1919 until it was shut down in 1993.

Unite regional officer Malcolm Bonnett said: “Unite is committed to stamping out this clear attempt at union busting on the AWE project. Enormous credit must be given to the workforce for standing up for their fellow workers, which has forced the employer to ensure that the affected workers were given alternative employment.

The move against the five workers may be related to an earlier protest outside AWE Burghfield in May, which related to a dispute involving NG Bailey and Balfour Beatty. In that dispute the two contractors were accused of trying to replace skilled electrician roles at the Hinkley Point C construction site with workers who have received substantially less training. In the face of union opposition EDF agreed to suspend the controversial training programme in March. In June the Unite Electrical and Mechanical Combine announced that NG Bailey and Balfour Beatty had agreed to the union’s main demands.

The September walkout is likely to have caused further delays to the troubled Mensa project at Burghfield which is six years late and more than £1bn over budget.

Photo: A previous walkout at AWE in 2017

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