AWE staff vote to strike over ‘done deal’ 6% pay award

Prospect union blasts "disappointing lack of proper engagement from the employer"
AWE Burghfield in Berkshire. Photo: Mark Kerrison/Alamy Live News

By Francine Worsoff

25 Oct 2023

Atomic Weapons Establishment staff have voted to strike amid opposition to a non-negotiable pay offer. 

Prospect union members voted decisively for industrial action after the employer refused to negotiate over its 6% pay offer. Some 67% of members who voted in Prospect’s ballot last month backed strike action, while 82% voted in favour of action short of a strike.

Around 61% of eligible members voted, well over the legal turnout threshold for action.  

Prospect general secretary Mike Clancy said its members at AWE had been “left with no option but to take this action after years of stagnating pay”.

“We have also seen a disappointing lack of proper engagement from the employer, typified by the pay offer being presented as a done deal, with no rationale given for the number, nor any space for negotiation,” he added.

Clancy said it was “simply unbelievable that within the organisation responsible for maintaining our nuclear deterrent, people are struggling with the basic cost of living”. 

He added that after several years of declining employee engagement and stagnating real-terms compensation, AWE employees had been once again forced to consider taking strike action. Prospect members had also voted to walk out over last year’s pay offer, but called off the strikes after staff were offered an average 5% pay rise plus a £2,275 lump sum.  

AWE transferred to public ownership in 2021, giving it some flexibility over its pay awards as an arm’s-length body of the MoD. The company, however, declined to engage in negotiations and submitted an offer that was significantly below expectations, at only 6%, Prospect said. The employer declined to provide an explanation for its refusal to engage in pay negotiations. 

“We are disappointed that members of the Prospect trade union have voted for industrial action,” an AWE spokesperson said. “Pre-planned contingency measures will be implemented as required to maintain the safety and security of our sites and operations – this remains our highest priority.” 

Based in Aldermaston, Berkshire, AWE is in charge of designing, producing, and maintaining the warheads for the country's nuclear weapons.

The MoD-owned research institution has trouble hiring and keeping employees since it loses a lot of employees and graduates to other companies, which makes it necessary to hire pricey contractors to cover skill shortages, according to Prospect. 

“If the MoD and AWE don’t think again and make a pay offer that reflects the still rocketing cost of living, there is a real risk that AWE will struggle to recruit and retain the skills that it needs,” Clancy added. 

AWE’s offer “remains competitive”, according to an AWE spokesperson, adding that the employer continues to “encourage Prospect to put the detail of the full and final pay deal to its members for consideration.” 

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