In 2020, strikes by workers at the Rolls-Royce plant in Barnoldswick, Lancashire, forced the company to abandon a plan to offshore work and cut jobs at the site. Strikes have now resumed after the employer reneged on commitments. Ross Quinn, a regional officer for Unite, spoke to Solidarity.
At the end of April, it was reported that a senior manager announced the training school, which was part of the settlement that ended the strike, guaranteeing future jobs at the site, would be demolished after two years. It was also reported that the company would essentially be reverting to the original plan which workers struck against last year, with some minor tweaks, leaving only 200 jobs on site.
Quarterly and half-yearly reviews were built into the agreement, so we challenged management about those comments, which they didn't deny. We've also used those reviews to remind management of the need to consult us about ongoing work on the site, and the requirement as part of the agreement for them to explore all opportunities for bringing new work onto the site, especially linked to green technology. We identified a number of instances where the company wasn't following the agreement they'd signed just a few months earlier.
The agreement included a commitment to retain a baseline minimum of 350 jobs on site, but in the very first review management were saying they were planning for 250. We made it clear this wasn't acceptable, and that we needed guarantees the agreement would be honoured. They countered that the agreement also included commitments to efficiencies on our side that hadn't yet been delivered, but these are only possible in the context of an ongoing commitment from management to protect work at the site, not to run it down past the agreed minimums. Moreover, the minimums were only a baseline; the company should be planning above them, not below.
The employer held a meeting with site and national convenors where they responded directly to some of our questions. Their responses weren't satisfactory, and reps told the company that unless we saw tangible evidence that they were enacting the agreement, including actively sourcing new work streams for the site, we'd be back in dispute. We held a consultative ballot and told the employer we'd strike if our demands weren't met. In response, they offered a commitment of just seven additional jobs.
That's clearly not acceptable, so strikes have resumed. We first balloted a group of 17 maintenance engineers, who struck for two weeks, concluding on 23 July. Even though this is a small group of workers, they have significant leverage within the site. There's now a planned two-week shutdown of the whole site, after which the maintenance engineers will strike for another two weeks. Meanwhile, we're balloting the rest of the workers at the site, which will conclude on 13 August.
Nationally our reps at other Rolls-Royce sites have communicated their complete solidarity with striking workers at Barnoldswick.
The workers at Barnoldswick are as determined as they were during the initial dispute. We're holding regular meetings to discuss the direction of the dispute and decide the next steps, so the lead is very much coming from the shop floor. Rolls-Royce could end the strikes by committing to uphold the agreement; until they do that, action will continue.