Nuclear winter of discontent?
: Dai Hudd, : 04 January 2017 12:00, Last updated: 17 January 2017 15:52
After a reshuffle of responsibilities among Prospect's senior management, I recently took on some new duties – including taking the lead for members working in nuclear decommissioning.
It is a welcome return to working with excellent Prospect reps and branches who I last dealt with on a day-to-day basis as the national secretary in our Liverpool office some years ago.
The relationships with the other main trade unions in the sector (principally Unite and the GMB) are also very good and I believe that together we are an effective voice for employees in this industry.
However, this role will be extremely challenging in 2017 because important terms and conditions for workers in this sector are under attack.
Coordinating Prospect's response to these attacks will be one of my most immediate priorities in 2017.
Like most sectors, there are concerns around pay and skills and, of course, nuclear new build is a vital issue for members in this industry.
But the collective issues of immediate concern are the current attacks on redundancy compensation and pensions.
This is a fairly long blog, but I would urge all Prospect members working in nuclear decommissioning to read it to the end because of the importance of countering these attacks.
If you have any questions, please post them in the comments section or contact any Prospect rep or officer.
It is important to be crystal clear about what redundancy compensation is (and is not). It is not, as a Government minister claimed, reward for failure.
It is paid as compensation when an employer lets an employee go because they no longer need that job to be done. It is a role that is made redundant, not a person; success or failure does not come into it (those are matters for performance appraisal or management).
Redundancy compensation is particularly important in nuclear decommissioning because there is a finite ultimate goal to make nuclear sites safe and, once completed, the workers will have succeeded in making themselves redundant.
In this industry, redundancy compensation is an important tool in retaining key skills until the end of planned projects.
In order to incentivise workers to commit to a job that they might complete at an age and in a location where it might be difficult to find equivalent alternative employment, employers in nuclear decommissioning agreed appropriate redundancy terms to achieve this aim.
For this reason (and because many workers in the industry are employed by companies operated by the private sector) no-one in the industry thought that the Conservative party manifesto commitment to cap redundancy compensation for public sector workers would apply to them.
It was only after the Conservative party won a majority in the 2015 general election and the Treasury launched a consultation on redundancy compensation for public sector workers, that it became apparent that the cap was intended to cover employees in nuclear decommissioning too.
I say consultation – but in truth the exercise, carried out over a month during the summer holidays, gave every appearance of being something of a sham. Despite the constraints imposed on responding, Prospect's submission set out comprehensive arguments why it was unfair and counter-productive to include this group of workers in the scope of the cap.
These arguments were reinforced by hundreds of members also taking the time to respond to the consultation and write to their local MPs. Campaigning by Prospect members and reps reached a peak with a lobby of MPs in Westminster Hall on the day of the last major Parliamentary debate on the primary legislation underpinning the cap.
This storify account gives a detailed summary of the lobby of MPs and the passage of the primary legislation in the Commons.
Gill Wood, Prospect national secretary with responsibility for Sellafield and Magnox members, gives a comprehensive account of the current position on the proposed cap in this video.
This issue is not settled. The scope of the cap will be determined by secondary legislation that is expected to be tabled early in 2017.
Members in this industry have cross-party support from a range of MPs. Prospect and the other trade unions will be coordinating one last push to exclude them from the proposed cap on redundancy compensation.
First they came for redundancy compensation, then they went for pension benefits.
Employees involved in nuclear decommissioning could be forgiven for thinking this government has it in for them.
The government intends to consult on detrimental changes to the benefits in the defined benefit section of the Combined Nuclear Pension Plan and the Magnox group of the Electricity Supply Pension Scheme. The proposed changes would significantly reduce the value of pension that affected members would accrue in the future.
The proposals are outrageous because they:
- contravene specific statutory pension protections
- cherry pick the detrimental aspects of Hutton’s proposals for public sector pension reform and leave out the parts that would benefit members in the sector.
As with redundancy compensation, Prospect will issue guidance on responding to this consultation, on lobbying your local MPs and other ways to oppose the proposals.
I urge you to take the actions suggested. If we are to succeed, every member will have to play their part.
Next steps (what Prospect members can also do)
We face many challenges but our collective voice is strong and we can have a real impact on these proposals.
Of course, the more members we have; the more effective we will be. So please speak to colleagues who are not in a trade union about the importance of joining – it’s easy to join Prospect online.
Members will be able to influence these proposals for the better in many ways and we will be in touch about these shortly.
Members who live in the Copeland constituency will have a particular opportunity to have their voice heard in the coming weeks.
If you are a Prospect member working in nuclear decommissioning expect to hear a lot from me and my colleagues about these issues early in 2017!