On behalf of 15,000 scientists, engineers, inspectors and other professionals in the nuclear industry, the union has warned that because of disparities in pay between nuclear installations inspectors and market rates there are already 35 too few inspectors to meet current inspection requirements.
Just to stand still, the Health and Safety Executive has already had to retain inspectors beyond age 60. The union argues that new infrastructure will require the recruitment of an additional 30 to 40 inspectors, on top of its existing 150, on salaries that are below the market rate and in a sector where salary growth continues to outpace inflation.
It has called on the government to honour its commitment, given as part of the 2005 pay round, to tackle retention problems by commissioning and acting on a review of nuclear inspector salaries. The review, completed in October 2006, revealed a disparity of 10-12% between HSE inspectors and their industry counterparts.
Prospect negotiator Mike Macdonald said: "Our members recognise the constraints on public sector pay but the commitment to review the salaries of nuclear safety inspectors was agreed as part of the 2005 pay settlement.
"In addition, the government’s proposals to extend the licensing regime to pre-design assessments of nuclear proposals envisage that nuclear inspection work will be funded solely by industry, not the taxpayer."
Macdonald said the union’s discussions with nuclear operators indicated that they recognise the validity of the case for increasing charges so that inspector numbers can rise. HSE unions have acknowledged that the review would not trigger comparability claims from non-nuclear HSE employees.
"Despite these assurances, any moves to resolve the position with HSE or its parent department have been hampered by Treasury obstruction, even though the review was agreed two years ago and cannot be seen as breaching 2007 public sector guidelines. The government has gone back on its word."
Prospect fears that any more delay in implementing the findings of the review will lead to a further loss of inspectors, undermining the quality of an understaffed service at a time when their skills are vital to helping the UK build a low-carbon economy.
The 2005 pay offer accepted by Prospect and the Public and Commercial Services union included a commitment to undertake a salary review on the basis that it: completed the 2005 pay round; would address market rates and retention issues; if it resulted in increased salaries, this would not be at the expense of other HSE staff; and the final shape of inspectors’ salaries would be negotiated with the unions.