Rolls-Royce workforce votes for strike action to save historic Lancashire factory

Rolls-Royce workers at Barnoldswick in Lancashire have overwhelmingly voted for industrial action in a battle to preserve the factory, the cradle of the jet engine.

In August, Rolls-Royce announced it was intent on offshoring the production of its Trent Engine blades, which are made at the site, to a plant in Singapore, with the loss of 350 local jobs.

The workers who are members of trade union Unite, recorded a 94% yes vote in favour of industrial action.

As a consequence, Unite has set Rolls-Royce a 96-hour deadline to withdraw its plans to off-shore blade production to Singapore, or confirm that comparable alternative work requiring a similar number of workers will be transferred to the plant.

Both options would require long-term cast iron guarantees to be made about the company’s commitment to the site.

The union warns that, if the deadline is not met, Unite will have no alternative other than to provide notice of action to the company.

It says the timing of the dispute is highly uncomfortable for Rolls-Royce with a debate held in Parliament on Wednesday (October 14) about its offshoring proposals and comes at a time when the company is seeking substantial new investment.

Rolls-Royce is currently seeking £5bn worth of investment in the form of a £2bn rights issue, £2bn-worth of bonds and support from the UK Government to the tune of £1bn.

The threat to the local plant has united the local community in a campaign to save the historic factory, with widespread support for the campaign coming from community groups, local businesses and the population of the town, said Unite.

The union’s regional officer, Ross Quinn, said: “The Rolls-Royce workers at Barnoldswick have given a resounding yes vote in favour of industrial action, as they are not prepared to see their jobs offshored.

“The entire town is firmly behind them, Barnoldswick was the birthplace of the jet engine, Rolls-Royce has been the principal employer for nearly 70 years and they are not prepared to let that disappear without a fight.

“Following Unite’s clear mandate for industrial action we are now giving Rolls-Royce the chance to reflect and return to the negotiating table to provide firm commitments to preserve highly-skilled work at Barnoldswick.”

He added: “If they fail to take this opportunity to promote industrial harmony then the membership will be left with no alternative but to take action.

“Unite fully understands the challenges the company faces as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, but it is simply immoral to be asking the Government for financial support and then using that money to make workers redundant and offshore their jobs abroad.”

Sebastian Resch, head of civil aerospace operations, Rolls-Royce, said: “While we understand their concerns, we urge our team in Barnoldswick to keep working with us on our proposals for the future of the site.

“We remain committed to meaningful consultation with employee representatives and trade unions and ask them to work with us, not against us as we deal with the impact of the pandemic on our business.”