GSK could face disruptions at 2 sites from possible UK contractor strike, union says

Engineering construction workers—who help repair and maintain pharmaceutical plants, oil refineries and more—are weighing whether to strike in the U.K. The potential industrial action, centered on a pay dispute, could cause disruptions to operations at two GSK sites and many others in the country, the U.K.’s biggest labor union said Thursday.

The workers—who attend to GSK’s Montrose and Irvine pharmaceutical plants—are angry that the value of their pay has "been progressively falling" since the pandemic started, according to a statement from the labor union Unite. These workers are contractors rather than direct employees of the company.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the engineering construction workers agreed to a pay freeze despite continuing to provide essential services to their clients. Then, the workers received a pair of 2.5% pay raises this year and last year.

This came despite “rocketing inflation” and “huge increases to the cost of living,” Unite argues, something that is hitting many countries around the world, but is proving particularly stubborn in the U.K. 

Aside from their work at GSK’s facilities, the engineering construction contractors are considering strike action at power stations, oil refineries and construction sites overseen by more than a dozen companies, Unite said.

GSK declined to comment on the situation.

Ballots to take action against the companies will kick off on Sept. 13 and close in mid-October.

While the present situation is markedly different given the workers' contractor status, GSK has dealt with threats of strikes in the past. Back in spring 2022, more than 1,000 GSK engineers, technicians, laboratory analysts, warehouse workers and others voted to strike after receiving what Unite called a “derisory” pay raise offer of 2.75%.

In that case, GSK managed to dodge that case of industrial action by dishing out an improved pay offer.

Meanwhile, in April, 750 GSK staffers voted to strike after the company offered a 6% pay raise with a one-off lump sum payment of 1,300 pounds sterling—an amount Unite said was “significantly below” the rate of inflation, which had been in double digits late last year, though is now hovering at around 7 per cent. 

The following month, workers at GSK’s Montrose facility in Scotland kicked off a series of strikes slated to affect six of the company’s sites and last throughout the month. Again, the employees decided to strike after Unite and the pharma giant failed to reach an agreement on pay raises.

In that particular instance, GSK reached an agreement with its workers on July 11.

“We are pleased to have reached an agreement with GSK employees covered by collective bargaining agreements at our UK manufacturing sites,” a GSK spokesperson said over email.

The accepted offer included a 6.5% increase on base pay, shift pay and allowances, as well as a discretionary one-time payment of £1,100, for an overall package equivalent to a 9.7% increase.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional details about recent strike action at GSK.