By Isabel Ringrose
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2811

Rolls-Royce leak plan backfires, workers could be heading for strikes

Workers at Roll-Royce are livid with bosses after they tried to undercut them with a one-off payment of £2000 and a below inflation pay increase
Issue 2811
Rolls Royce unite members on the picket line with flags and a banner

Rolls-Royce workers previously struck at the Barnoldswick plant in July 2021 (Picture: Unite North West)

Engineers at Rolls-Royce could be heading for strikes after bosses “stabbed the workforce in the back”. After months of talks with the Unite union, bosses have leaked details of the negotiations to the press in an attempt to smear the workers. 

The pay offer, which was rejected by the Unite shop stewards committees, is a one-off payment of £2,000 and 4 percent pay rise back-dated to March. Rolls-Royce hopes to paint itself in the bosses’ press as a benevolent employer helping its workers. Some 3,000 junior managers would receive the cash in August. 

The 11,000 Unite members—the majority of which make engines and parts—get theirs if the union concedes to the offer.  The workers want an 8.87 percent pay rise—a claim made when RPI inflation was at 5.5 percent.

Some 700 Unite members raised their hands for a fightback at an emergency meeting in Bristol on Thursday. The workers—from across three shifts—chanted, “Eight or the gate.”

Matt, a worker a the Rolls-Royce site in Bristol, said workers are “livid”. “Bosses have dragged this out as long as possible,” he told Socialist Worker. “They’re toying around with the union, trying to undermine us. They’re praising themselves, but the offer was not agreed with the union. And the company sent out letters to employees’ homes about it. Workers in Bristol are livid.” 

Bristol is part of a works combine collective bargaining group, meaning several workplaces negotiate together. It consists of plants in Ansty, Barnoldswick, Inchinnan, Rotherham and Washington. Derby Works Combine, made up of thousands of workers, is also involved in the dispute. So are two other groups that include some GMB union members.

During the pandemic workers made ventilators for the NHS and have had no pay rise in two years. “We played a massively critical role throughout the entire pandemic,” Matt explained. “This is how they decide to treat their own workforce? They’re just money grabbers.”

Matt thinks that the negative press is an attempt “to split the workforce”. “They’re scared,” he said. “They can’t afford a strike. We also have a new HR team who have never dealt with anything like this before. 

“Rolls-Royce is also trying to sell the offer as a 9 percent pay rise—that’s misleading. And they want to turn the public’s perception. It’s bullying tactics.”

As the cost of living crisis spirals, Rolls-Royce knows that a pay out of £2,000 could be tempting for struggling workers. That’s despite Rolls-Royce chief Warren East grabbing a £4 million pay package in 2021, including a £3 million bonus.

Unite officials are now trying to salvage a deal with bosses. But Matt says that failing this the only option is to strike. “There is a real sense of collectiveness—we’re not frightened,” he said. “We’re not going to bend over backwards, and won’t be willing to have a union officer come in and make a deal for less than 8 percent.

“We’ve been in these talks for months. We’ve tried to negotiate with the company and have listened to all their excuses. It’s not on and we’re not prepared to listen anymore. We’re in a good position and this workforce is powerful.” 

With class struggle on the rise as rail workers take on bosses, the prospect of thousands of Rolls-Royce workers walking shows an appetite for resistance.

  • Matt is a pseudonym

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