Last-minute deal averts nuclear walkout

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The Independent Online

An 11th-hour agreement over pensions has been struck between unions and the nuclear industry to avert a crippling strike.

Unions, led by Amicus and Prospect, were planning to hold a strike ballot over a generous new pension scheme for the industry that would have excluded about 1,600 employees of the state-owned nuclear holding company, BNFL.

But the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), which is responsible for most of Britain's nuclear sites and is setting up the scheme, has agreed to union demands that provisions be made for those excluded.

The NDA will use some of the proceeds from BNFL's £3bn sale of its reactor services unit, Westinghouse, which will be completed next month, to plug the £70m deficit in the BNFL group pension scheme and fully fund its liabilities. The 1,600 workers not currently covered by the NDA scheme - workers at BNFL's project services business, its R&D arm, Nexia, and its head office - should now be transferred into this existing scheme.

The Department of Trade and Industry and the Treasury have not yet formally sanctioned the new proposal, which was hammered out in the past few days.

A spokesman for BNFL said: "We are delighted that we seem to have facilitated a resolution to this issue."

The nuclear industry is in the middle of being privatised. The Government has promised to make new arrangements to guarantee that these public sector workers will continue to be eligible for generous final-salary pension schemes after privatisation.

But the NDA originally refused to guarantee pensions for all workers. The agreement was only made after Amicus, which represents about 5,000 nuclear workers, and Prospect, which represents 3,500, threatened a strike ballot. A strike would have shut down the UK's main nuclear site at Sellafield in Cumbria.