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Employees claim Dounreay is in 'freefall' as staff morale hits 'all-time low'

By Gordon Calder

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DOUNREAY is "in freefall" with staff morale "at an all-time low" and "people leaving in droves," according to staff at the site.

They accuse management of presiding over "a sinking ship" and having "no focus and no direction". They claim matters have become worse since Dounreay joined Magnox Ltd last year and then became part of Nuclear Restoration Services, which is responsible for the clean-up of the Caithness site and 11 others across the UK. Unions and safety reps have raised concerns over pay and other issues relating to the way the site is run.

The three main unions at Dounreay – Unite, Prospect and the GMB – have balloted their members for industrial action after a pay offer was overwhelmingly rejected.

Management acknowledge "significant change" is taking place but stress it is "committed to engaging fully with our workforce and their representatives to improve levels of workforce satisfaction."

A number of staff, who wished to remain anonymous, outlined their concerns to the John O' Groat Journal, sister paper to the Northern Times. One person referred to Dounreay as Doomray and claimed management is "clueless" about how to resolve the issues.

An employee said: "Site morale has never been so low. The general feeling is that Dounreay is a sinking ship, with a blame culture, no focus, no purpose, no direction. We are too top heavy and appear to be bringing in more layers of management with the new FFF (Fit for Future) structure. However, we’re needing more people on the ground doing the work. What we are now seeing is people leaving in droves. There is no incentive or desire for people to stay."

"There is a blame culture, where people are afraid to do anything without fear of repercussions. People are not wanting to speak up because they are fed up of nothing being done about it and nothing changing for the better.

"Dounreay management feel that FFF is going to be the magic solution to fix the problem, but they are not listening to what the problems are in order to know what to fix and how to fix it."

Morale at Dounreay is "at an all-time low," according to staff
Morale at Dounreay is "at an all-time low," according to staff

Another staff member, who has spent most of his working life at Dounreay, has "never seen the site at such a low ebb. He said: "Morale is at an all-time low. Industrial action is pending. FFF has only enhanced staff uncertainty. Enforcement letters show regulators are concerned. Dounreay is in freefall and I have no confidence in the senior teams capacity in solving the issues or even appreciating how bad things have got."

Leadership and general safety at the site was questioned by another staff member while a colleague was "utterly dismayed to hear that management believe there are no problems on site."

"Clearly our management are not in touch with their employees, " he stated.

A fellow Dounreay worker said:"The site is being run by incompetent management who seem to have their own agendas rather than working to a plan. Leaking and crumbling buildings, loss of workforce morale and trust yet management still speak like everything in the garden is rosy.

"Joining with Magnox was seen as being cost saving and providing security by both the NDA (Nuclear Decommissioning Authority), Magnox and Dounreay management but it will probably add to the overall cost rather than save any money. "

It was also claimed that items are being bought even if they are not needed to "get rid of the money before the end of the financial year."

Niall Watson, the chairman of the Trade Union Co-ordinating Committee (TUCC), said: "The unanimous decision of all three Dounreay unions to ballot their members on industrial action over the company’s 2023 pay offer is not a decision that has been taken lightly and follows the overwhelming rejection of the offer by members. The 2023 pay offer was a real terms pay cut of nearly six per cent for most of the workforce.

"While the company have on many occasions publicly stated that they value the workforce and view it as their greatest asset, making a pay offer that is significantly below inflation conveys the opposite message, and to many feels insulting... and is asking members to accept a substantial real terms pay cut during a prolonged cost of living crisis. Dounreay management have consistently declined to approach Government with a business case to improve this offer. This does not demonstrate to us that the company value the workforce."

Mr Watson stressed that although the pay issue is "a significant concern for staff" the Dounreay TUCC is "aware of wider concerns and frustrations raised by staff relating to low morale, distraction and lack of focus. We have raised these matters with the company and continue to engage with them to try to get them resolved."

Denny Macdonald, the full time safety rep at the site, said: "The safety reps have been made aware of numerous concerns and frustrations raised by some staff relating to low morale, distraction, lack of focus – all these can affect concentration and lead to accidents. We are committed to ensuring a safe working environment at Dounreay and will work with management to address these issues."

A Dounreay spokeswoman please: "Dounreay is currently going through a significant change programme. We understand that change has the potential to be unsettling, and we are committed to engaging fully with our workforce and their representatives to improve levels of workforce satisfaction and accomplishment as part of these changes."

She added: "We are looking at a significant extension to the decommissioning plan for the site. This will result in huge amounts of extra investment in the community and high level jobs for many more decades to come. More information will be available in the coming weeks."

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