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UK's largest union says Tata Steel workers ready for indefinite strike

It will be biggest labour action in British steel sector in over three decades if the strike happens

Aditi Divekar  |  Mumbai 

Paul Reuter

Britain’s largest trade union, Unite, has said workers of Tata Steel Europe are ready for an indefinite strike if the management does not negotiate on its proposal to scrap the British Steel Pension Scheme.

Speaking to Business Standard a day ahead of the proposed meeting of four leading trade unions, representing 17,000 workers, on the course of action, Paul Reuter, national officer for steel at Unite, said the unions were ready for negotiations.

“If Tata Steel wants to talk to us, we are open. Else, workers are prepared. They are also ready for an indefinite strike if the need arises,” Reuter said over the telephone.

If the unions decide to go ahead, it will be the biggest labour action in the British steel sector in three decades. Last week, unions voted in favour of a strike action against Tata Steel after a ballot of workers was sought on a dispute over the pension scheme.

Tata Steel wants to replace the existing pension scheme with a “money-purchase” one in which employees, the government and the employer will make definite contributions. It also proposed to raise the retirement age from 60 to 65. All four unions — Community, UCATT, GMB and Unite (the latter represents around 6,000 workers) — voted in favour of the strike.

Reuter also said the unions would provide financial support to the tune of £30 per day to each worker on strike. Additionally, unions would make collections all over. Unite alone, he said, had 1.4 million members who would help.

Reuter said according to norms, the unions had to take action within four weeks of closure of ballots. Monday's meeting would draw up the plan on how to carry out this strike. The unions would also take legal advice as the employer had to be sent a legal notice stating what the unions planned to do.

“To begin with, workers will put a total ban on working overtime. We plan to start the strike slow and then escalate it gradually,” Reuter said.

Elaborating on the unions' offer of pension savings worth £850 million to Tata Steel, Reuter said it was “not real money”. The unions have asked for a range of changes in the existing pension scheme, which, if made, will help save that much over 15-20 years.

The changes the unions have sought include changes in amount of money workers will get over a period of time.

“We have accepted these changes, we have offered Tata Steel the savings it says it needs. But the company wants to close the scheme altogether. This is not acceptable to workers,” he added.

Tata Steel had released an open letter to employees on Friday that said the UK operations were losing money and the pension scheme had a shortfall of over £2 billion.

The company had also said the result of the pension ballots “is disappointing, given the company is proposing to continue providing employees with highly attractive and competitive pensions”.

THE BIG BATTLE

  • If Tata Steel doesn’t negotiate with unions’ on its proposal to scrap the existing pension scheme, leading trade unions would begin an indefinite strike
  • Last week, all four unions - Community, UCATT, GMB and Unite — representing 17,000 workers - voted in favour of the strike
  • Unions meet Monday to plan on how to carry out strike. They would also take advice on a legal notice to Tata Steel
  • The unions would provide financial support of £30 a day to each worker on strike. And, they would make collections for support

First Published: Mon, June 08 2015. 00:19 IST
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