Around 200 workers at a car manufacturing plant walked out on strike today (10 May) over an ‘inadequate’ pay offer.
Unite general secretary Sharon Graham has accused bosses at the BMW Mini plant in Oxford of making profits “off the backs of low paid workers”.
Why are the workers on strike?
After what workers describe as an overall decline in terms and conditions during the pandemic, Unite members voted overwhelmingly to reject a pay offer put forward earlier this year.
After announcing strike action, Unite workers entered negotiations with Rudolph & Hellmann Automotive (RHA), the firm which employs the staff, with four initial days of the strike postponed as a result.
Despite five days of talks, Unite says the company was unwilling to make a “significantly improved offer”, resulting in a renewed mandate for strike action by warehouse workers and shunter drivers at the site.
Workers will strike today (10 May), and again on the 12, 17 and 19 of this month.
The warehouse workers are demanding a day rate of £12.50 and £13.50 for night shifts, up from the company’s offer of £11.33 per hour for day shifts and £12.27 for late shifts.
Shunter drivers are being offered £13.97 for days and £15.07 for nights, but want a flat rate of £15.50, which Unite says is nearer to the industry standard for the role.
Unite has described the current pay offer as ‘inadequate’ in the context of a cost of living crisis, with one employee telling NationalWorld that their bills and food costs have almost doubled in the last year.
Staff at the site say that changes to shift patterns and sick-pay policy in recent years have had a detrimental impact on workers.
One worker, who asked to remain anonymous, told NationalWorld that they have to spend an extra £340 on childcare every month as a result of the shift changes.
What are the workers asking for?
The union has warned that strike action will have a significant impact on production at the plant, with many car manufacturing facilities running on a just-in-time production model, and that staff hiring and retention will be impacted if the company doesn’t improve its offer.
A worker who was involved in strike action on Tuesday (10 May) told NationalWorld that the decision to strike was taken as a last resort, but estimated that the action will cost BMW and RHA a significant amount in lost time.
They said: “Since the pandemic, the bosses seem to have become more greedy, they got rid of staff and changed things in a way that suits them, but it makes things harder for us.”
Unite says it has seen its membership increase at the site as the dispute has gone on, suggesting growing dissatisfaction among workers.
Unite regional officer Scott Kemp said: “This is the second time in six months Unite has had to serve notice of strike action in the BMW supply chain due to poor salaries.
“Rudolph & Hellmann’s workers are absolutely critical to the delivery of the MINI’s production and we expect BMW to work with the company to improve this inadequate pay offer and prevent strike action intensifying.”
While the company has claimed to have increased pay by 10% this year, Unite has disputed this, pointing to a 4% increase without consultation in 2021, meaning the 2022 pay increase is 6%, and therefore less than inflation.
New deal must reflect ‘rapidly rising living costs’
According to the company’s most recent accounts filings, up to 31 December 2020, Rudolph and Helmann Automotive Limited made post-tax profits of £2.6 million in 2020, up slightly from £1.9 million in 2019, despite turnover dropping from £33.2 million to £28.3 million in the same period.
Company accounts also show the firm benefitted from funding through the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, or furlough, worth around £2.5 million in 2020.
Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “Our Rudolph & Hellman members are loud and clear in their rejection of this pay offer and they have Unite’s full backing in resuming industrial action.
“It is not acceptable for BMW to be making profits off the backs of low paid supply chain workers. Rodolph & Hellman and BMW need to come back with a fresh deal that reflects our members’ rapidly rising living costs.”
A spokesperson for the firm told NationalWorld: “Rudolph and Hellman Automotive Limited are disappointed that we have been unable to reach an agreement at this point.
“We will continue with our discussions regarding pay and other terms and conditions with Unite the Union in our desire to end this current dispute.”
Across the country, trade unions have been launching industrial actions against employers who’ve failed to offer pay and terms that keep pace with the rising cost of living.
Unite has announced more than 41 strikes since the beginning of 2022, the most since it was formed in 2007.
Unite workers at Manchester pallet manufacturer Chep UK won an inflation-busting pay rise last month following the longest continuous strike in the union’s history.