ALMOST half the workers at an iconic Huddersfield engineering firm are set to go on strike.

About 200 shopfloor employees at David Brown Gear Systems in Lockwood have voted to down tools for 24 hours from midnight tonight.

The stoppage by members of the Unite union – who make up almost half the firm’s 450-strong workforce – is in a dispute over the firm’s 2.5% pay offer.

But union official Dick Croft said members’ attitudes had also been hardened by company plans for a review of pay grades and changes to its pension scheme, which he said would adversely affect many of Brown’s long-serving employees.

Mr Croft, district secretary for Unite, said a new pay deal should have come into effect five months ago, adding: “It is disappointing that things have got to this stage.”

David Brown general manager Wayne Ball said the firm was offering a 2.5% pay rise and a 2% bonus. He said the offer compared favourably to other UK pay settlements and that it was “disappointing” that industrial action was being taken, particularly given “current economic challenges.”

Mr Croft said Unite members at the 17-acre Park Works site were seeking an improved pay offer which reflected the current 4% inflation rate.

He said members were also upset by changes to the pension scheme and proposed alterations to job rankings, terms and conditions.

“The vote for industrial action was a pretty good result,” he said. “It indicates the strength of feeling of our members.”

Mr Croft predicted strong support for the stoppage, but said: “We are always prepared to listen to the company on a reasonable offer. We want them to come back and improve their offer, which is not even at the level of inflation.

“But we want some genuine commitment about how they are going to deal with all of these issues.”

Mr Croft said the current dispute was probably the most serious between the union and the company for 10 years.

He said: “It is a successful, world-renowned company in gear manufacture and it has new opportunities in areas like renewable energy. We like to think we have contributed to its survival and success.”

Mr Ball said the 150-year-old company had a “clear defined strategy” for developing around its expansion in key established and emerging markets.

“We have clear plans for investing in developing the business to ensure that our facility and team plays a key part in this growth,” he said.

“We have a responsibility to all our stakeholders – employees, customers, investors and suppliers – to ensure that the business delivers against our strategy.

“In doing so, we are investing in our future as we seek to grow our market position and create jobs locally in both our company and the supply chain.

“We are committed to growing David Brown in the region and are working hard to invest in a stronger future in a growing and competitive global market place.

“We clearly want to recognise and retain our skilled workforce and have been in continuous discussions with the Unite union regarding the annual pay award.

“We have offered a 2.5% pay increase, which compares favourably to other UK settlements and in addition a further 2% bonus.

“Given this competitive offer we are disappointed that industrial action is being taken, particularly given the current global economic challenges.

“We are still in active discussions and are hopeful that we can find a settlement that works for us all.”