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Wattisham: Apache helicopter engineers could strike over pay

Wattisham Airfield workers employed by engineering firm Morson Wynnwith are engaged in negotiations over pay and are meeting with company bosses today.

But union leaders have warned that strike action could be a possibility if the parties cannot come to an agreement.

This would have a devastating impact on essential maintenance work to the specialist helicopters flown by colleagues of Prince Harry, who is training to be an Apache pilot. Apaches are currently deployed in Libya fighting against Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s regime.

Mark Robinson, regional officer for Unite, said: “The company made a revised offer a couple of weeks ago, which was rejected by our membership.

“Strike action hasn’t been ruled out at this point. We have exhausted the internal procedures.

“We hope to avoid the need to take an industrial action ballot, but that’s in the gift of the company.

“They are fully aware that our membership has rejected their latest offer and if we can’t come to an agreement, that’s one step that we may wish to look at.”

The company employs more than 200 workers and contractors, of whom around 180 could be affected by the industrial action.

As part of the depth support unit, they carry out vital maintenance to the helicopter fleet, including a complete service of each aircraft after it has completed 600 flying hours, to strip down the aircraft, repair and replace worn parts, and return them for use on the front line.

Tony Beaumont, executive account director for Morson Wynnwith, said: “We’re trying to agree a pay settlement and in the current climate, that’s quite a difficult thing to do because we have got the pressures of the economy and inflation.

“We just want to settle it and move on. I’m hopeful we can get this sorted in the normal fashion and as quickly as possible.”

Union representatives and company bosses are meeting today to try to come to a compromise.

Morson Wynnwith is a subcontractor providing engineering and technical services on behalf of helicopter company AgustaWestland, which manages the Apache fleet for the Ministry of Defence.

AgustaWestland’s communications manager, Geoff Russell confirmed maintenance at Wattisham Airfield had not been affected so far.

“The facility itself is running as normal,” he said. “We’re meeting all our deadlines of delivering the Apaches back to the front line squadrons.”

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