STAFF at an aircraft parts maker have moved closer to downing tools in a protest over shift changes, The Northern Echo can reveal.

The vast majority of workers in a union ballot at Northern Aerospace have indicated their willingness to strike.

The result comes after the Echo revealed the GMB union was preparing to gauge the opinion of staff, who say they have had “enough of their noses pushed through the dirt” by management over amendments to shift patterns they claim will slash thousands of pounds from annual salaries.

However, the company, which runs its head office out of Consett, County Durham, last night refuted the accusations, saying the changes have eased redundancy fears and are in line with union agreements set out in 2013.

Officials also reiterated a previous statement that the business, known for making wing apparatus and supplying machined parts to customers such as Airbus and Boeing, was responding to weaker customer demand, adding officials remain focused on supporting staff by providing a 20 per cent shift premium.

According to the results of the ballot, seen by the Echo, 115 votes were cast by workers on their readiness to take part in strike action, with 114 returning a ‘yes’ decision.

It is understood that the business has switched from a sevenday- a-week shift pattern to a fiveday arrangement, with working hours coming down from 12 to eight.

Workers say the firm’s changes have created an “intimidating, toxic environment”, with some staff saying they expect to lose as much as £9,000 a year.

They have also claimed that financial void has been compounded by the company’s approach, claiming bosses have told staff there is the option to sacrifice holiday leave and work through scheduled breaks to bolster their pay packets.

But a spokeswoman for Northern Aerospace, which was bought by Better Capital in 2015, said the company was looking out for peoples’ interests.

She said: “We have changed shift patterns in response to reduced customer demand.

“The action we have taken is in line with existing union agreements and is designed to avoid redundancies.”

But, speaking previously, John McCauley, a GMB union representative on site, said the atmosphere at the business was downbeat.

He added: “Things have started to deteriorate and the mood is horrible.

“Everyone has had enough of having their noses pushed through the dirt.

“Skilled workers are leaving on a daily basis, but their (management) attitude is that they will go out and find others.”