Unite to hold strike ballot at HP

Staff at Hewlett-Packard IT services will vote on whether to take industrial action over the planned transfer and benefit cuts of 150 of its workers

Unite has announced it is balloting members at Hewlett-Packard IT services for strike action following the planned transfer and benefit cuts of 150 customer engineers and support specialists.

The ballot, which began on Wednesday, is the first time HP's employees in the UK have been asked to vote on industrial action, according to Unite. A consultation ballot held earlier this month resulted in an "overwhelming" vote in favour, the union said.

The tech giant plans to transfer 150 employees at locations across Britain to a subsidiary, Hewlett-Packard CDS, on 1 November. In addition, it proposes to remove their pay and pension benefits, including their final salary pension scheme and a performance bonus scheme worth up to £2,000.

"This is the latest in a series of attacks by the company on our members' pay and conditions, while senior executives and shareholders do very well indeed," Unite's national officer, Peter Skyte, said in a statement on Tuesday. HP announced a string of pay cuts to its EDS workers earlier this year.

HP, which has around 18,000 employees in the UK, said in a statement that it is keen to try and resolve the dispute. "We will evaluate the situation as soon as the result of the local ballot is available," they said. "We will continue to maintain a dialogue with the union in an attempt to avoid any form of industrial action."

Unite said it remains willing to seek a resolution, and that the results of the ballot are expected around 20 November. Any strike action will therefore fall after the transfer of HP employees to HP CDS.

The union is in the midst of a separate IT services worker dispute with Fujitsu Services over proposed pension cuts. The results of a ballot over industrial action at that company are expected after Friday.

The HP strike, if it goes ahead, could have a major impact on the company's systems, possibly even causing an outage, according to Skyte. The company has not made public any measures it may have taken to mitigate the possible effects of the strike on customers.

An ex-HP engineer told ZDNet UK that many large corporations that use HP equipment could be without technical support for up to six days should the strike go ahead. The engineer, who wished to remain anonymous, said sources at the company had told him HP is planning further benefit reductions, including cutting engineer broadband allowance by 50 percent, and restructuring company car policy.

"My colleagues are currently feeling very unloved by HP," said the engineer.