AWE Employees Agree to Settle Pension Dispute

Workers end industrial action for what union calls ‘best possible deal available.’

Workers at UK-based Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE), which manufactures and maintains nuclear warheads, have ended their industrial action and have accepted a settlement to resolve an ongoing pension dispute.

Unite, the union representing the AWE workers, said 800 members had accepted a 4% pay deal for each of the next three years, and enhanced allowances, in return for dropping its campaign for reinstatement to the Ministry of Defense pension plan. 

“Basically, our members have voted to accept a substantial pay increase now, rather than continuing the pensions’ dispute indefinitely, which would not have been in the interests of all the parties involved,” said Unite regional officer Bob Middleton. “Given all the circumstances, this is the best possible deal available.”

AWE workers have been intermittently striking since late last year, when AWE first proposed closing the employees’ defined benefit pension plan. Additional strikes had been planned September 7, 11, and 21. 

“Our members have suspended their industrial action and are working normally—and wish to have a constructive relationship with the management going forward,” said Middleton.

AWE pension plan members were paying 10% of their salary into the defined benefit plan, while the company was paying 26%. Unite said that under the new defined contribution plan, employees are now paying between 3% and 8%, or more, with AWE paying between 9% and 13%. 

The new deal, which is backdated to June 1, and covers 2017 through 2019, also includes uplifts to the high hazard allowances and overtime rates for all staff. 

“There are some generous uplifts in pay, for example, the firefighters’ package will jump from £31,000 to £48,000 a year,” said Middleton, who added that “this result would not have been possible without the tremendous solidarity our members have shown since the first strike action last November. It shows that if you stick together, you do get a decent deal in the end.”

The dispute between the workers and management centered on pledges made in the early 1990s by the government to AWE workers regarding the future of their pensions, once they transferred to the private sector. Unite says that these promises were broken when AWE closed the defined benefit pension plan in January of this year. 

AWE, which employs about 4,000 people, is a consortium of US-based Lockheed Martin and Jacobs Engineering, and UK-listed Serco. The union said that the consortium made a profit in 2015 of £57 million on total revenues of £978 million. 

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