Unite workers on strike over ‘inadequate’ pay offer at Oxford BMW Mini plant

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Sharon Graham, Unite’s general secretary, has urged the company to offer a deal that reflects “rapidly rising costs of living”.

About 200 workers at a car factory went on strike today (May 10) over an “unreasonable” salary offer.

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Unite general secretary Sharon Graham has accused the bosses of BMW Mini’s Oxford plant of making profits “at the expense of low-wage workers”.

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Why are the workers striking?

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Following what workers describe as a general deterioration in working conditions during the pandemic, Unite members voted overwhelmingly to reject a wage offer presented earlier this year.

Following the announcement of a strike, Unite workers began negotiations with Rudolph & Hellmann Automotive (RHA), the company employing the workers, which initially delayed the strike by four days.

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Despite five days of talks, Unite said the company was unwilling to make a “significantly improved offer”, prompting a renewed mandate for strike action by warehouse workers and shunters at the site.

Workers will strike today (May 10) and again on the 12th, 17th and 19th of this month.

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The warehouse workers are asking for a daily rate of £12.50 and £13.50 for night shifts, versus the company’s offer of £11.33 an hour for day shifts and £12.27 for late shifts.

Shunting drivers are offered £13.97 for days and £15.07 for nights, but want a flat rate of £15.50, which Unite says is closer to the industry standard for the role.

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Unite has called the current salary offer “unreasonable” in the context of a cost-of-living crisis, with one employee telling Mazic News that his bills and grocery costs have nearly doubled in the last year.

Employees at the site say changes in shift patterns and sick pay policies have had an adverse impact on workers in recent years.

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One worker, who wished to remain anonymous, told Mazic News that shift changes mean he has to spend an extra £340 on childcare every month.

What are the workers asking for?

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The union has warned that as many car factories operate on a just-in-time production model, strikes will have a major impact on production at the plant, and that unless the company improves, hiring and retention will be affected Offer.

A worker involved in a strike on Tuesday (May 10) told Mazic News that the strike decision was taken as a last resort, but estimated that action would cost BMW and RHA a significant amount of lost time.

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They said: “Since the pandemic, bosses seem to have gotten greedier, they’ve cut staff and changed things to suit them, but it’s making it harder for us.”

Unite says membership at the site has risen over the course of the dispute, indicating growing discontent among workers.

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Unite Regional Manager Scott Kemp said: “This is the second time in six months that Unite has had to announce a strike in the BMW supply chain over poor wages.

“Rudolph & Hellmann workers are absolutely critical to the delivery of MINI production and we expect BMW to work with the company to improve this inadequate wage offer and prevent the strikes from intensifying.”

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While the company claims to have raised wages by 10% this year, Unite has denied this, citing a 4% increase without consultation in 2021, meaning the wage increase in 2022 will be 6%, less than inflation amounts to.

New contract must reflect ‘rapidly rising cost of living’

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According to the company’s most recent accounting records, up to December 31, 2020, Rudolph and Helmann Automotive Limited achieved a profit after tax of $2.6 million in 2020 for the same period.

The company accounts also show that the company has benefited from around £2.5million in funding from the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme or furlough in 2020.

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Sharon Graham, General Secretary of Unite, said: “Our Rudolph & Hellman members reject this salary offer loud and clear and they have Unite’s full support for the resumption of industrial action.

“It is unacceptable for BMW to make profits on the backs of poorly paid workers in the supply chain. Rodolph & Hellman and BMW need to come back with a new deal that reflects the rapidly increasing cost of living of our members.”

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A company spokesman told Mazic News, “Rudolph and Hellman Automotive Limited are disappointed that we have not been able to reach an agreement at this time.

“We will continue our discussions on pay and other terms with Unite the Union to resolve this current dispute.”

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Unions across the country have taken industrial action against employers who have failed to offer wages and conditions that keep pace with the rising cost of living.

Unite has announced more than 41 strikes since early 2022, the most since its inception in 2007.

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Unite workers at pallet maker Chep UK in Manchester won an anti-inflationary pay rise last month after the longest straight strike in the union’s history.

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