Engineers at Wattisham airbase in Suffolk, servicing Apache helicopters in Afghanistan, are set to take strike action over a pay differential dispute that means that many are about Â£3,000-a-year worse off.
More than 100 Unite members employed by Morson Wynnwith at Wattisham â€“ Prince Harryâ€™s home base – have voted overwhelmingly in favour of strike action as they receive about Â£3,000 less a year than their counterparts at the firmâ€™s Middle Wallop site in Hampshire.
Talks were continuing today (Tuesday 23 August) between Unite shop stewards and the firm in a bid to resolve the dispute, which could escalate into strike action within the next four weeks.
Unite regional officer Mark Robinson said: â€We hope to resolve this dispute, as the last thing we want is anything to affect the maintenance of the Apache helicopters that are so vital to the safety of our brave servicemen and women serving in Afghanistan.
â€However, our members are angry and frustrated at the companyâ€™s intransigence to align the salaries at the two sites â€“ we believe that work of equal value should receive equal pay. The majority of our members at Wattisham are worse off to the tune of about Â£3,000-a-year.
â€Last year the company agreed over a four-year period to more closely align the salaries between the two sites. The companyâ€™s offer for 2011 actually takes our members employed at Wattisham further away from that goal as the deal achieved at Middle Wallop is higher.
â€The management is back tracking on its pledge and this has generated a lot of bad feeling.
â€The company claims that it has not harmonised the pay between the two sites for â€œhistorical reasonsâ€ and that it is more difficult to recruit and retain staff in Hampshire. We donâ€™t agree with this and believe that the cost of living is just as high in Suffolk, especially as there is very little public transport in East Anglia.â€
The staff voted 71 votes to 14 in favour of taking strike action, while the vote in favour of action short of strike was even more comprehensive with 81 votes to four in favour.
So far talks involving the conciliation service, Acas have yet to produce a satisfactory resolution to the dispute. There are about 150 maintenance staff employed at Wattisham, of which just over 100 are members of Unite, the countryâ€™s largest trade union.
Mark Robinson said: â€In view of the result of the ballot, we encourage the company to think again on the offer and reinstate the promises they made last year to avoid the need for our members to take action.â€
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