Michael Fallon should 'do the decent thing', says Unite
Tomorrow, 600 workers at the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) will start staging two 48-hour strikes this month in the long-running ‘broken promises’ pensions’ row.
To fight for justice, they will be striking at the AWE’s two sites at Aldermaston and Burghfield in Berkshire for 48 hours from midnight tonight and again for 48 hours on January 30.
The issues in this dispute are simple: What does a promise made to the House of Commons count for? How long does a promise made by an ‘honourable’ minister of the Crown last for? Is it forever or can it be jettisoned in the interests of financial expediency?
The dictionary definition of ‘a promise’ is ‘a declaration or assurance that one will do something or that a particular thing will happen’.
The workers – who are members of Unite, the country’s largest union – feel deeply betrayed as promises made a quarter of a century ago guaranteeing their pensions, when they were transferred from the Ministry of Defence to the private sector, have been broken.
In 1992, prior to the transfer, the then Tory junior defence minister Kenneth Carlisle stated that AWE employees had a ‘copper bottomed guarantee’ that they would not suffer a detriment to their current pension in the transfer.
However, the AWE bosses now plan to close the defined benefit scheme on January 31 and replace it with a defined contribution one, which would rely on the vagaries of the stock market and where the final retirement income is not guaranteed. Unite says its members want to be taken back into the MoD pension scheme.
The MoD has confirmed that the responsibility for the deficit is theirs, but also said that guarantees made prior to the transfer of our members in 1992 will no longer be honoured. In their words: ‘Nothing lasts forever’.
If the MoD were to grant the scheme Crown Guarantee, there would not be a requirement to close the scheme, which will result in our members losing thousands of pounds in retirement incomes.
Currently, AWE scheme members pay ten per cent of their salary into the scheme and the employer pays 26 per cent. Under the AWE’s new proposals, employees will be able to pay from three per cent to eight per cent or more; with AWE paying from nine per cent (if an employee pays three per cent) to 13 per cent (if an employee pays eight per cent or more).
So there you have it: a pledge shattered, a promise causally discarded and hopes for a financially secure retirement thrown into serious doubt.
It is actions such as these that contribute to the public’s unfortunate current cynicism with the political process, which, in turn, sullies the whole democratic edifice.
The present defence secretary Michael Fallon has an opportunity to take a step towards restoring that lost public confidence by honouring the pledge made all those years ago and ensure that AWE workers don’t lose out on their pensions.
The ball is back in the MoD’s court to do the decent thing and keep a promise.
Bob Middleton is Unite regional officerSign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.