Engineers at Rolls-Royce’s Coventry plant have voted to strike over job cuts, amid fears that the company is planning to shift its research and development work out of the UK.Professionals at the company’s Ansty plant in Coventry voted 4-1 in favour of industrial action, in protest at plans to cut nearly 1,300 skilled engineering jobs in the energy R&D division and transfer work to Canada.
John Wall, national secretary for aerospace at the MSF union, said the 2,400 staff at Ansty believe Rolls-Royce’s decision could mean the end of the company’s R&D work as a whole in the UK. ‘This could be the thin end of the wedge as far as the very British identity of Rolls-Royce is concerned. The company has said nothing to allay our members’ fears over the future of R&D in the UK.’
A spokesman for Rolls-Royce denied that moving research work out of the UK was part of the company’s long-term strategy. The energy business in industrial gas turbines and diesel generators was being moved to north America to be close to its largest market, he said, while the marine division is based in Scandinavia for the same reason. ‘We are concentrating our businesses in areas where they are most active. Aerospace R&D is almost wholly based in the UK,’ he said. But he refused to comment on whether aerospace research would remain in the UK.
The Ansty plant, which employs 2,400 staff, will be hard hit by Rolls-Royce’s reorganisation plans, announced last November. Apart from the transfer of its energy R&D and operations business to Montreal, a further 50 jobs are threatened in the naval marine engineering and customer support business, which Rolls-Royce plans to move to Bristol. All staff at the plant have been offered relocation packages to either Bristol or Montreal. The aero-repair and overhaul business will remain at Ansty, employing 550 people.
Wall said the strike will go ahead within the next couple of weeks unless Rolls-Royce agrees to national-level talks with union leaders to discuss the company’s plans. ‘These are professional engineers working at the cutting edge of technology, they have pioneered much of the technology Rolls-Royce’s recent success has been based on,’ he said.
Rolls-Royce said the company was disappointed with the engineers’ decision, and was continuing to talk to local union representatives at the Ansty site in the hope of resolving the situation. As The Engineer went to press, more talks were planned for Thursday.
The transfer of an R&D plant is widely regarded as more damaging to the UK economy than the closure of a volume production facility, due to the potential for future wealth creation that is lost. Ken Paterson, president of the UK Association of Professional Engineers, said the loss of any R&D facility would be a severe blow to the country’s manufacturing base. Rolls-Royce’s decision could be interpreted as a lack of confidence in the UK, he said. ‘It’s a concern that the company is planning to transfer technical and skilled jobs to one of our competitor countries. It’s regrettable they couldn’t find an alternative site in the UK.’
Strikes among professional engineers remain relatively rare. Last February 3,000 engineers and support staff at Ford threatened a three-day strike over pay and the proposed merger of their pension fund with that of the company’s hourly paid workers. But the strike was called off after staff accepted an 11.1% pay rise over three years.