Workers at Rolls Royce’s plant in Barnoldswick in Lancashire have been striking since 6 November to prevent the offshoring of 350 jobs. Facing strikes through until Christmas, the company has now locked the workers out. Ross Quinn, a Unite organiser involved in the dispute, spoke to Daniel Randall from Solidarity.
The targeted action we’ve taken has put the company under huge pressure. The majority of workers were still coming into work, but nothing was moving, and nothing was getting done. The employer couldn’t use the government furlough scheme, because the impact on work wasn’t to do with Covid, it was because of industrial action. They would have furloughed everyone immediately if they could have gotten away with it.
When we notified them of the third wave of industrial action, the employer asked us if we’d give dispensation for some of the electricians, who were due to strike as part of that wave, to come into work. They said if we didn’t, they’d have to shut down the site and furlough staff. We asked them: “what are you giving us in return? What will you do to demonstrate that you want to resolve the dispute?” The answer that came back was, essentially, “nothing.” So we refused to modify or moderate the strike plan.
The employer then informed us they were putting workers on “company furlough.” We responded immediately by asking, “what’s company furlough?” This wasn’t a scheme we agreed to or were ever made aware of. They didn’t respond directly to that; they told workers they’d be paid 80% of their wage. Obviously we believe everyone not striking is entitled to 100% pay, and we’ve also challenged the legality of what Rolls Royce has done. The employer then told the workers they will pay 100% of wages for the first two weeks, and 80% for the week after that.
As far as we’re concerned, this is a lock-out. That’s how we’ve described it, and we’re calling on the employer to resolve the dispute. Locking out workers won’t resolve the dispute, only finding a future for the site will.
Our consistent belief has been that offshoring these jobs would be one phase in a process that would lead to the eventual closure of the site. We’ve always believed the company has had other plans they weren’t being transparent about. We’ve demanded total transparency, asked them to put everything on the table, so we can make counter-proposals and look at what needs to happen to secure a future for the site. On Thursday 3 December, Rolls Royce announced that certain components from the site would be transferred to another company, called ITP, which is Rolls Royce-owned, from where they’ll be sold off. This just confirmed everything we’d be saying all along.
The transfer of those components doesn’t just affect Barnoldswick, it also affects the Rolls Royce site at Hucknall. There are other announcements that also affect sites in Scotland and at Ansty in Coventry. We’re covered by our industrial action ballot until mid-late January, so we can name further action ourselves, but if the company don’t offer serious concessions then they could be facing a national dispute and spreading industrial action, due to the wider impact of those announcements.
On 5 December, we organised a car rally to show support for the workers. It spread for miles, from Colne to Burnley, along three or four junctions down the motorway. That was a clear demonstration of how much support the workers have got in the local community, and was a real boost for them all.
Within Rolls Royce, there are a lot of different structures. Shop stewards, and regional and national officers, are interlinked through those structures. Although this phase of action at Barnoldswick has functioned somewhat independently, due to the specific attacks at this site, we’re always having conversations with other union reps and officers elsewhere in the Rolls Royce structure and discussing how they can apply pressure. Senior convenors in national structures will be submitting counter-proposals to the company, and if those aren’t accepted, there’s a real prospect of a national dispute.