Hidden costs of drawn-out pay dispute at Sellafield

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

WEST Cumbria – and Copeland in particular – is likely to become more dependent than ever on the nuclear industry and we say that in full light of all the on-going efforts to diversify our economy.

So with all the signs pointing to another strike at the area’s biggest employer and economic bread earner – Sellafield – it has to be worrying.

There is no guarantee that the 10,000-strong nuclear workforce will vote in favour of industrial action. But it will be surprising if the majority go against the wishes of their respective unions. No-one doubts their muscle.

Loud and clear, the reassuring thing at the moment from unions and company management is that the safety of the site will not be compromised. That effectively means that the community will not be put in danger – Sellafield does hold the nation’s biggest stockpile of plutonium and some of the most radioactive material on the planet.

Safety, they say, is paramount – if only management and unions could get on the same wavelength in terms of pay and conditions and sort something out before the strike ballot papers are sent out and things get even more difficult to resolve.

Opinion has to be divided over this current pay impasse depending, we suppose, on whether or not you work at Sellafield.

Those that don’t, and possibly don’t wish to, will look on enviously on what Sellafield workers already get – someone said “London wages”.

By the same token, Sellafield workers are entitled to the high wages they get – conceivably many of them put themselves at potential risk every time they enter the gates – and the unions are entitled to get the best deal they possibly can for their members.

Good pay packets there are good for the local economy.

There are bound to be concerns behind the scenes among Sellafield’s paymasters, the NDA, and also in government. Whether anyone will intervene to help settle this dispute remains to be seen.

But settled it must be – otherwise Sellafield could find itself crippled as it did during the last strikes five years ago, plants will be shut and money lost all round. But that’s not all. Confidence is also a key factor – not least with the new Sellafield operator about to be named soon.

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