A twenty year battle for equal pay by over 200 British scientists and engineers at the Joint European Torus (JET) project may finally be over. The salaries of JET workers employed by the UK Atomic Energy Authority are only about half of those received by non-British workers at JET, who are employed by the European Union. Earlier this week the majority of the 217 British workers voted to accept the EU's offer of £16m in compensation. The decision should allow research at JET to continue beyond the proposed shutdown date of December this year.
During the 1980s the European Court of Justice in Strasbourg agreed that the British workers had been discriminated against, and in 1996 the court ordered the European Commission to settle the case. The workers can now expect to receive between £70000 and £100000 each.
A major reason for the settlement is the collapse of the proposed $10bn International Experimental Fusion Reactor (ITER). This next-step fusion project would have continued the work of JET and other fusion plasma experiments in Europe, Japan and the US. However, last summer the US pulled out of ITER, and the three remaining partners – the EU, Russia and Japan – agreed to concentrate on a smaller and cheaper version of the reactor. Thus by extending JET’s lifetime by another three years, fusion researchers will be able to study some of the science and engineering challenges behind a smaller reactor.
However, a pre-condition for any extension of JET was that the salary dispute had to be settled first. Now that a deal has been provisionally agreed, the future of JET looks assured.