BAT faces 24-hour strike protest at its Southampton plant

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The Independent Online

Up to 400 UK workers at British American Tobacco (BAT) will go on strike today in protest at the company's two-year pay offer.

Up to 400 UK workers at British American Tobacco (BAT) will go on strike today in protest at the company's two-year pay offer.

Members of the Amicus trade union will stop work at 6am this morning in the company's Southampton factory for a 24-hour walkout. They are planning another strike on Wednesday next week unless the management proposes a new wage deal.

Pay negotiations between the company and the union broke down last week after BAT refused to raise its offer of a 2.6 per cent pay rise for 2004 and a 3 per cent rise in 2005. Workers want 3 per cent for 2004 and do not want to agree the pay rise for 2005 until next year. A spokesman for Amicus said yesterday: "BAT recently announced profits of £1.5bn for the past nine months. It would cost the company only £80,000 more to increase the pay offer from 2.6 per cent to 3 per cent."

BAT said its Southampton plant, which makes brands such as State Express 555, Dunhill International and John Player Gold Leaf for export all over the world, would still be operating today despite the walkout. It insisted its pay offer was fair, as it also gives workers the potential for further bonuses based on productivity targets. Allan Short, the head of UK & Ireland operations at BAT, said: "We are very disappointed at this decision. The company has put forward a pay offer that it believes very reasonable in light of competitive pressures faced not only by us, but by the whole European business."

In a separate development, a subsidiary of BAT, BATCo, scored an important legal victory in the US yesterday over a confidential memo that forms part of a $280bn lawsuit against the tobacco industry by the US government. BATCo has been fighting to keep the so-called Foyle memorandum - written by a lawyer advising BAT called Andrew Foyle - confidential, arguing it is subject to client-attorney privilege. The District of Columbia Court of Appeal over-ruled an earlier finding that BATCo must hand over the memo, which is thought to contain information on the destruction of research documents, immediately. But the court has said the US government can continue its battle to get the memo made public.

BATCo is on trial in the US alongside five other tobacco companies including Philip Morris and RJ Reynolds, for allegedly deceiving the public over the health risks of smoking. They are accused of destroying damaging scientific research in a conspiracy that dates back to the 1950s. All the companies involved deny any wrongdoing.