Set stage for the biggest labour action in the British steel sector in three decades
London : Tata Steel workers voted in favour of “industrial action” against the firm over its proposal to end the British Steel Pension System (BSPS), two of the employees’ unions Community and GMB said.
“Members of Community, the biggest union in Tata Steel, have voted overwhelmingly in favour of strike action,” Community said in a statement. Members from another union GMB in Tata Steel also voted in favour of industrial action.
“Community is calling for Tata Steel to return to the negotiating table to seek a way to end the dispute,” it said. In total 88 per cent members voted in favour of a strike action, the union said, adding that the average turnout was over 76% and was as high as 84% at Tata Steel’s works in Port Talbot, where 96% of members voted for strike action. The combined vote in favour of other forms of industrial action was 96 per cent, it added.
The industrial action ballot of nearly 17,000 workers is sought by unions to decide between a strike, lock-out and action short of a strike based on the majority view of the employees. The dispute centres around Tata Steel’s proposal to replace the existing BSPS with a “money purchase” pension scheme in which employees, the government and the employer will make definite contributions.
Community Union General Secretary Roy Rickhuss said: “We stand on the brink of the first national strike in the steel industry for over 30 years.
“This is not where we wanted to be but Tata now has an opportunity to end this dispute by removing the threat of scheme closure and discussing alternative measures to resolve the challenges faced by the scheme, something the unions have been prepared to do since November last year.”
The company said it needed to address a deficit of just under GBP 1 billion and the unions were prepared to look at measures that would have wiped that out, without closing the scheme, he added.
As of December 2014, the BSPS had 143,000 members, with 17,004 making up employee members and 91,264 making up pensioner members. As of November 2014, assets of the scheme were valued at around GBP 13.6 billion and continue to increase, it added.
“Community’s members at Tata Steel have now spoken loud and clear. Steelworkers are determined to stand up to Tata. They have not been fooled by the company’s propaganda. They have voted overwhelmingly for their pensions, their families and their futures,” Rickhuss said. Earlier on Friday, Tata Steel in the UK warned its employees that the new pension scheme is heading for a huge shortfall of 2 billion pounds (USD 3 billion) as unions prepared to announce the results of a ballot to determine industrial action against the Indian steel giant.
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