The Rolls-Royce factory in Barnoldswick, Lancashire, has been saved and with it 350 jobs and a community protected from ruin, thanks to a ground-breaking deal struck by Unite the union and the company's management.
The deal, which has been supported overwhelmingly by the workforce, will give the historic site a new lease of life as a core manufacturing facility and host to a new ‘centre of excellence’, training tomorrow's engineers to meet the challenges of the climate emergency.
The deal marks the successful conclusion of a campaign mounted by the workforce and supported by their local community determined to resist closure, including nine weeks of strike action.
The future of the factory, home of the World War Two Lancaster bomber and birthplace of the Frank Whittle jet engine, was thrown into grave doubt last summer, after Rolls-Royce announced that it was transferring the production of its Trent jet engine blade work to Singapore. Unite members rightly feared that without equivalent work to replace it, the move would signal the end of the Barnoldswick site.
The deal struck by Unite provides an opportunity for the site to retain advanced manufacturing for decades to come and position itself within Rolls-Royce as a leading player in the development and manufacture of the products and technologies needed to combat climate change.
In recent days the workforce has been considering the deal, giving it their resounding backing. The main details of the deal are:
A ten-year manufacturing guarantee for the site
A guaranteed minimum headcount of 350 workers
The creation of a ‘centre of excellence’ training school supporting the development and manufacturer of zero carbon technologies and advanced manufacturing excellence
A guarantee of a two year no compulsory redundancy agreement to facilitate discussions on a plan to develop advanced manufacturing work, supporting carbon free energy generation, along with synthetic fuels and green technologies.
Paying tribute to the Barnoldswick workforce and community, Unite assistant general secretary for manufacturing, Steve Turner, who led the team that negotiated the agreement, said: “Today is a day for celebration at the Barnoldswick plant and their community. They demonstrated real solidarity in the face of a genuine threat, stood together and have won a future. True local heroes who have inspired a generation.
“This plant has a great history, but it now has a bright future thanks to the courage and determination of these workers and the support of their friends and neighbours. It can look forward to celebrating its eightieth anniversary in 2023, safe in the knowledge that it will play a leading role in Rolls-Royce as it repositions itself to be a key player in green manufacturing.
"Threats to end manufacturing at Barnoldswick would have left the plant facing closure, destroyed this town and been another nail in the coffin of UK manufacturing. But heads never dipped, and the solidarity shown by its workforce and community has been inspirational.
"Barnoldswick now has a great future and will sit at the heart of Rolls-Royce's UK operation, retaining jobs and skills alongside opportunities for the next generation of apprentices to become the country's engineers of the future.
"Today's news also underscores the determination of this union, Unite, to retain manufacturing of tomorrow's technologies here in the UK.
“I’d like to recognise the role of Rolls-Royce CEO, Warren East, who was prepared to listen to a clear alternative business case for this highly skilled, dedicated workforce. I urge others to follow suit and work with Unite to do the same, to develop a shared vision and determination to position UK manufacturing as a world-leader in emerging and green technologies.
"Finally, the government must learn from Barnoldswick. It’s refusal to support these workers as they fought for a future sent a depressing signal. The on-going failure of government to develop an industrial strategy that intervenes, supports and invests in the development, growth and transition of our economy simply confirms that while they’re happy to talk about ‘levelling up’ our northern regions and manufacturing heartlands, that is all it is, talk.”
Ross Quinn, the Unite regional officer with responsibility for Barnoldswick, added: "When many could be forgiven for thinking there was nothing that could be done, our Unite reps led these workers and the town of Barnoldswick and collectively they stood as one to say 'no way'. They united, taking to the picket line in all weathers to fight back against closure, and won.
“Today's news is their victory and it is 100 per cent deserved.
"People are very emotional as this means so much to the town of Barnoldswick. This site is at the heart of the local economy, but we also draw so much pride from its history. To lose it would have destroyed this town, so it will be a huge relief to people and businesses right across the community and in the wider supply chain that this awful dark cloud on the near horizon will disappear.
"I hope it gives heart to other workers faced with their own David versus Goliath battle that with Unite on their side, they can secure a future.
“Unite is now looking forward to working with Rolls-Royce to ensure that the agreement is a complete success. This workforce will be keen to put their shoulder to the wheel now, to get back to work and make sure the site has the bright future it deserves.”
As part of the campaign, the workforce balloted for industrial action and began targeted strike action on 6 November last year which ran until Christmas Eve. Workers then returned to the picket lines at the start of 2021 (Monday 4 January). In total, the workforce has undertaken nine weeks of strike action.
Rolls-Royce is the major employer in Barnoldswick and the factory, the cradle of the jet engine, has been in operation since 1943. The closure of the site or a substantial reduction in work being undertaken at it would have devastating consequences for the prosperity of the local community.