LONDON (Reuters) — British steel unions have given official legal notice to Tata Steel UK about their intention to start balloting some 17,000 members for industrial action from May 6, one day before the country's general election.
The unions are locked in a dispute with the company about its proposal to change their pension scheme. Should the ballot result in a vote to strike, it would be the biggest action in the UK steel sector in three decades.
"We are urging our members to vote for strike action," said Roy Rickhuss, Chair of the National Trade Union Steel Co-ordinating Committee and General Secretary of Community.
"Unfortunately there is no sign of Tata showing any willingness to re-enter meaningful discussions with the trade unions about the future of the British Steel Pension Scheme."
Three unions — Community, GMB, UCATT — have given Tata Steel legal notice about the ballot, while a fourth — Unite — is expected to give notice in the next few days.
The unions accuse Tata of not taking up their offer to re-enter discussions about the pension scheme. They are urging their members to vote in favour of strike action or in favour of industrial action short of a strike.
A Tata Steel spokesman said: "We are aware of the proposed date of the ballot. The company tabled proposals to the trade unions whereby the defined benefit scheme would remain open to future accruals subject to a number of modifications."
"As agreement could not be reached, the company has initiated a 60-day statutory consultation period with scheme members on a proposal to close the scheme to future accruals."
Producing steel profitably in Britain has become difficult given cheap imports and given demand has yet to recover to pre-2008 levels. Also, the UK steel sector's labour, logistics and energy costs are higher even than mainland Europe, which itself struggles to compete globally.