STEELWORKERS in Hartlepool have launched a ballot which could bring them a step closer to industrial action.
Workers at the Brenda Road plant of steel giants Corus have started a ballot for industrial action in the continuing dispute over pensions and bonuses.
The ballot started yesterday and will last until the middle of next month.
Workers will be voting on two possible decisions – whether to consider industrial action short of a strike or whether to take strike action.
The Hartlepool ballot comes just hours after colleagues at the Corus Tubes Corby plant voted for a ballot for industrial action. Hartlepool's mills have a workforce of around 370 people.
More than 300 steelworkers at Corby gathered on Sunday to react to a decision by Corus who they have accused of refusing to pay bonuses in violation of over 30 years of procedure and custom and practice.
A Corus spokesman said: "Corus has written to employees reaffirming that bonuses cannot be paid for the quarter just ended in view of the fact that bonus agreements with the trade unions for 2009/10 have not been concluded.
"The company is hopeful that discussions with the trade unions can commence shortly and have confirmed to employees that any payments due under the new agreements will be paid to them at the next scheduled payment date."
Roy Rickhuss, Community Union national officer for Steel, said: "Our members have taken a stand today and said that they will not let Corus rip up their contracts.
"Community Union have repeatedly stated that we are willing to sit down and talk, but we will not allow Corus to put a gun to our head and negotiate away our members' terms and conditions under duress.
"Corus management are using the recession as an excuse to drive down wages and turn back the clock.
"Community Union will support our members as they seek to protect their families and their livelihoods.
"Wherever our members take a decision to resist management coercion through industrial action, Community Union will fully support our members and their families."
Unions are believed to be considering action over Corus's decision to close the British Steel pension scheme to new entrants, and the non-payment of the bonus.
Their stance started in September when Community Union representatives walked out from a meeting with representatives from Corus Long Products, which includes the Hartlepool division.
Unions chiefs claimed
management had refused to hold open discussions around proposed changes to the pension scheme.