Rolls-Royce faces strike over Singapore production switch

Paul Ellis/PA Archive/PA Images

Workers at two UK Rolls-Royce factories are on the verge of strike action because of plans to move some production to Singapore.

The engineering giant announced plans to cut 350 jobs in August and merge two plants in Barnoldswick, Lancashire.

Now, the Unite union said its members would not allow the firm to “destroy the viability of the site without a huge fight” and would go on strike from 6 November for three weeks.

In June, the aircraft engine manufacturer said it would be cutting 3,000 jobs across the UK as it sought to adapt to the market conditions stemming from the coronavirus pandemic.

The firm later announced said it would stop making wide chord fan blades for new Trent jet engines at its Bankfield site in Barnoldswick and move the work to Singapore by 2023. The turbofan engines are mostly used in Airbus and Boeing aircraft.

Barnoldswick also hosts the firm’s Ghyll Brow plant which will take on the remaining work.

Rolls-Royce’s plans are part of a survival strategy that has also seen it seeking to secure £5bn in additional investment through a £2bn rights issue and the issuing of £2bn of bonds and £1bn of support from the UK government.

Unite regional officer Ross Quinn said the union had “given Rolls-Royce every opportunity to change its plans” and commit to the “long-term future” of the sites, while confirming “there will be no more compulsory redundancies and guarantee the long-term future of Barnoldswick”, but it had refused to do so.

“To offshore work and destroy the viability of this historic factory would be nothing short of industrial vandalism,” he said. “As a consequence and as a last resort, Unite has instructed its members to take targeted strike action in order to bring Rolls-Royce to the negotiating table.

“Barnoldswick [established in 1943] is the cradle of the jet engine and the workforce and the local community will not allow Rolls-Royce to destroy the viability of the site without a huge fight.”

Unite national officer Rhys McCarthy said: “It is simply unacceptable that Rolls-Royce is seeking to offshore the jobs of workers in the UK, while at the same time that it is going cap in hand to the UK government for £1bn in financial support.”

“In 2009, staff were assured that the production of Trent engine wide chord blades would continue at Barnoldswick despite another plant being opened in Singapore – an assurance we now know was not worth the paper it was written on.”

A Rolls-Royce spokesperson said the firm was disappointed to receive notice of industrial action and remained committed to consultation.

He said the firm had “no plans” to close the factories, adding: “Our people in Barnoldswick will play an important role in developing fan blades for our future jet engines [and] we ask them to work with us, not against us as we deal with the impact of the pandemic.”

The firm added that some work assembling Trent engines in Singapore would move to the UK as it reviewed its global operations, which has already included the closure of a site in Virginia, US.

A spokesperson said: “The Covid-19 pandemic has created a historic shock in civil aviation which will take several years to recover.”

In August, as it confirmed the merger of the two Lancashire plants, Rolls-Royce said it would shut one of its aerospace factories in the east Midlands. The Annesley operation will be closed by the end of 2022 and many of its 120 staff transferred to the company’s main civil aerospace site in Derby.

In May the company proposed a major reorganisation that would involve at least 9,000 redundancies – around one-fifth of its global workforce.

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