STRIKING workers at GE Steam Power’s 125-year-old Rugby factory have accused the company’s management of being ‘difficult’ and ‘intransigent’ in an ongoing pay dispute.
More than 75 members of Unite the Union – the majority of the factory’s workforce – are taking a total of 12 days of strike action spread over six weeks, continuing today (Friday March 4) and Monday (March 7).
Unite says the strike – the first at the Newbold Road site in 45 years – is over GE Steam Power’s ‘refusal to negotiate over flexible working payments and the expectation that workers will take on new roles without extra pay’.
Speaking to The Observer on the picket line today, Unite regional officer Zoe Mayou disputed a GE Steam Power spokesperson’s previous claim from February 16 that the management was engaging with the union.
She said: “They’re not engaging with us at all. The management are being completely intransigent.
“We have been wanting to discuss these issues for the last four years. They have never wanted to work with us – they’re trying to bypass us.
“Our members are being asked to do extra work. We’d like paying for that extra work, and we want to discuss it – but it’s been completely shut down.
“By not listening to us, they’re the ones who have caused the issues that we’re now having to deal with.
“We don’t understand why they’re being so difficult about it. We want to work together in a constructive manner. We want to have proper proposals on the table. We want to have a proper professional working relationship.
“In fact we may have to escalate it and take it further to the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) so we can move this further forward.”
Unite says the relationship between workers and management has become increasingly strained over pay, redundancies, attacks on pensions and cuts to death-in-service benefits since GE Steam Power bought the site 11 years ago.
And the union has warned the prospective new owners of the site – French energy giant EDF, which has signed an exclusive agreement to acquire part of GE’s nuclear power activities – that they will ‘inherit industrial unrest’.
Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “Our members are taking action because, after 11 years of attacks on their pay and conditions, they’ve had enough. Unless GE Steam Power Rugby sorts this out fast, EDF will be inheriting industrial unrest across the entire shop floor of the factory.
“Our members will not back down and they have the complete support of their union to keep going as long as it takes to achieve what are perfectly reasonable pay demands. GE Steam Power needs to up its game and resolve our members’ issues to their satisfaction and settle this dispute.
“GE Steam Power’s management has gone out of its way over the last decade to sour its relationship with the Rugby workforce. Their rude and arrogant attitude to our members’ request for fair pay has resulted in the first strike in 45 years.
“These strikes will continue until GE Steam Power tables a proposal that our members can accept.”
A GE Steam Power spokesperson said: “GE Steam Power Management in Rugby remains committed to having a constructive social dialogue with the aim of reaching a resolution quickly.”
GE declined to offer any further comment.
The site, which was founded in 1897, manufactures industrial plant steam turbine equipment, some of which is used on the UK’s nuclear submarines.
As well as halting production, the strikes will also disrupt the site’s repair and refurbishment service for steam rotating equipment.
Following Monday’s strike, Unite members at the site will take a further eight days of industrial action between March 18 and May 2.