Union action likely in nuclear industry

At a time when the UK Government is privatising the running of Britain's nuclear fuel reprocessing centres, the threat of industrial action is being raised by three unions who represent 12,000 nuclear workers. The unions are planning to reject a 2% pay offer and are asking members for support for an imminent strike. The dispute focuses on Sellafield's reprocessing site in Cumbria, its technical facility at Risley near Warrington and the former uranium enrichment plant Capenhurst in Cheshire, which is being decommissioned. (The Times, 3 April 2008)

The body charged with licensing the state-owned nuclear assets is the Nuclear Decommissioning authority (NDA) and final bids for the contract to run Sellafield are due to go to the NDA on 7th April 2008. Four groups are competing to run Sellafield and the preferred bidder will begin to run the site in the autumn. Sellafield has suffered severe technical issues at Thorp, its newest reprocessing facility. This would be compounded by any industrial action. (The Times, 3 April 2008)

Mike Graham, national officer for energy at Prospect, the engineering union, said:”We are absolutely disgusted with the pay offer and it could well lead to industrial action. This is the time of the biggest change for Sellafield and we are being offered a very low reward.” (The Times, 3 April 2008)

A spokesman for Sellafield said:”Our offer is intended to help increase the efficiency of the business, which is a necessary step towards securing our long-term future. The offer is in line with the government's recently published public sector pay guidelines.” (The Times, 3 April 2008)

The NDA also recently awarded a five-year contract to Nuclear Waste Management Ltd to manage and introduce new technologies at the Drigg site, south of Sellafield,. Drigg contains waste from nuclear facilities, universities and hospitals. (BBC News 24, 31 March 2008)

See the Times 100 case study on the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), an organisation set up by the government, which started its operations in April 2005. Its purpose is to create a UK-wide plan to clean up existing public sector nuclear sites. Its business is environmental restoration.

See also the Times 100 case study on UNISON. Everyone in the country is touched by public services, so it is vital that any dispute is solved quickly. Good communication helps this. Groups in dispute need to understand each other. UNISON uses different methods of communication to help bring problems into the public eye.


The Times, 3 April 2008 (print edition)

The Times Online – Threat of union action over pay at Sellafield, 3 April 2008

BBC News – Nuclear waste site deal is struck, 31 March 2008

The Times 100 Case Studies – NDA, The business of nuclear decommissioning

The Times 100 Case Studies – Unison, Using effective communications

Potential Study Questions:

  • Name two examples of Acts of Parliament which govern trade union activity.
  • Name two laws which aim to protect the rights of employees at work.
  • Why is technology important to business?