Optare production to continue during industrial action, firm says

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Optare has vowed to continue production at and deliveries from its Sherburn in Elmet factory despite union Unite announcing planned industrial action by its members there.

Unite claims that Optare has “refused point blank to honour an August 2019 pledge to implement a pay rise by November of this year.” An overtime ban is to commence on Thursday 15 October. Action is also slated to involve four 48-hour discontinuous stoppages. The union says that when combined, those steps “will limit production and the number of deliveries accepted.”

Optare says it has countered the industrial action threat by putting in place contingency plans to maintain production and deliver orders, but it accepts that the industrial action will “disrupt production already impacted by coronavirus COVID-19.”

The manufacturer has urged Unite to reconsider its demands for a pay rise “at a time when other automotive manufacturers are cutting thousands of jobs.” Unite says its members at Optare are paid “significantly less” than staff at comparable companies.

The union adds that 73% of its members at Optare voted in favour of strike action and industrial action short of a strike. Optare has responded by saying that only 16% of all employees within its organisation have voted to stop work. The manufacturer adds that while production staff were furloughed, they received 100% of their contracted pay.

Chief Executive Graham Belgum says that industrial action while work is underway to put Optare “on a firm financial footing” is “unhelpful.”

He adds: “This is a pivotal moment for Optare as we continue to invest in the future of the company to get through this extraordinary situation. Our parent company [Ashok Leyland] has supported this business over the past few years with more than £100m of investment and we must continue to weather this storm.

“We remain determined to continue to keep our workforce employed and safe. We retain a real willingness to continue to engage with the union and reach a potential solution.”

In a statement, Unite Regional Officer Richard Bedford says that “there is still time to avoid disruption to the business.” But Mr Bedford adds that the situation has been made worse “because staff have agreed to defer pay negotiations on a number of occasions at the company’s request.”