Atomic Weapons Establishment staff strike in pensions dispute

Atomic weapons

Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) employees who are members of trade union Unite are striking in a long-running dispute over changes to the organisation’s pension scheme.

Around 600 managers, craft employees and manual staff are taking part in the 48-hour strike action, which began today (18 January 2017), at AWE sites in Aldermaston and Burghfield in Berkshire. A further 48-hour strike has also been planned for 30-31 January 2017. 

Today’s strike follows on from industrial action that was taken on 14 November 2016 and 6 December 2016.

The dispute regards the AWE’s plans to close its defined benefit (DB) pension scheme on 31 January 2017, to replace it with a defined contribution (DC) arrangement instead. Currently, AWE pension scheme members pay 10% of their salary into their pension, with an employer contribution of 26%. The new DC pension would see employees pay between 3% and 8% or more in pension contributions, with the AWE contributing 9% if an employee pays 3%, up to 13%, if an employee contributes 8% or more.

According to Unite, its members want to be taken back into the Ministry of Defence pension scheme from which they were moved when transferred into the private sector.

Unite members voted 92% in favour of strike action and 97% for industrial action short of a strike.

Bob Middleton, regional office at Unite, said: “It was in the House of Commons in the early 1990s that the then-Tory government made copper-bottomed promises to AWE [employees] regarding the future of their pensions, once they transferred to the private sector. It is quite clear that this pledge has been shattered and our members feel deeply betrayed.

“The most just course of action would be for the pension scheme to be taken back by the Ministry of Defence.”

An AWE spokesperson said: “AWE is committed to establishing future pension arrangements that are affordable for our staff and attractive to future employees. Over recent weeks, improvements have been made to the new scheme and additional enhanced benefits have been included. This is a very competitive scheme which has been benchmarked against external comparators, and puts the revised AWE scheme in the top 25 percentile.

“Staff have been informed that from 31 January 2017 the AWE defined benefit scheme will close and as of 1 February 2017 all members of the AWE Pension Scheme will be enrolled into the AWE Group Personal Pension scheme (AWEGPP). The safety and security of AWE staff and the general public remains our top priority during periods of industrial action. We have undertaken detailed contingency planning and have resilient measures in place to deal with industrial action.

“AWE is committed to holding discussions with our trade unions and to [maintain] dialogue with them.”