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Monday, July 26, 1999 Published at 18:29 GMT 19:29 UK


Sci/Tech

Big payout for fusion workers

Inside the experimental Jet reactor

More than 200 UK workers at Europe's experimental nuclear fusion reactor have won a huge compensation deal after complaining that they were the victims of pay discrimination.

Some of the staff employed on the Jet research project at Culham in Oxfordshire will receive £70,000. Others on higher grades will get as much as £100,000.


[ image: UK workers were paid less than their continental colleagues]
UK workers were paid less than their continental colleagues
The entire package, awarded by the European Commission, will total £16m.

The dispute over pay started 20 years ago when nuclear scientists, engineers and technicians at the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) research centre were joined by about 160 staff from other European countries.

The UK workers were refused the new well-paid posts and discovered they were being paid just half the rate their new Euro colleagues. While British salaries ranged from £30,000 to £100,000, the continental employees were earning £60,000 to £200,000. They were also able to claim additional expatriate allowances.

Fighting fund The UK staff set up a fighting fund and hired lawyers to argue their case. In the mid 1980s, the European Court of Justice in Strasbourg accepted they had been discriminated against but ruled it was "objectively justified" because the granting of equal pay might lead to problems with other employees not working on the nuclear fusion project.


[ image: The Jet project consumes a budget of £400 million a year]
The Jet project consumes a budget of £400 million a year
However, the staff refused to accept this and battled on until 1996 when the European Court ordered the Commission to pay them compensation.

The Commission has now finally agreed to do this. A total of 217 UK workers will benefit.

A spokesman for the UKAEA said: "We are delighted that progress has been made to ensure the future use of the Jet facilities after December 1999.

"It is too early to comment on the details of the settlement as final negotiations have not yet been concluded."



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