Royal Naval shipping movements around Plymouth will be plunged into ‘Christmas chaos’ when specialist tug operators at Devonport’s naval base employed by outsourcer Serco Marine go on strike, Unite, the UK’s leading union, warned today (Tuesday 15 December 2020).

Around 40 tractor tug crew members will go strike from 25 December after Serco Marine announced that their working pattern would change from one week on and one week off to three weeks on and three weeks off. The duty rota changes also mean the workers will lose annual leave allocations.

The first strike, which begins at 07:00 on Friday 25 December, will continue until 06:59 on Wednesday 30 December. The second strike begins on Thursday 11 January (see notes to editors).

In a ballot with a 92.3 per cent turnout, 97.2 per cent voted in favour of strike action. 

Unite said that its members ‘have taken the difficult decision to strike’ because the changes will ‘dangerously increase fatigue’ amongst tug crews, who deal with a whole host of military vessels, including nuclear submarines. Moving from a one-week to a three-week rota will also adversely affect the crew members’ home and family lives.

The union called on the Ministry of Defence to intervene to prevent Serco Marine from introducing the rota changes, which it said are attempt to ‘eke every last penny out of the contract’.

Unite regional coordinating officer Terry Keefe said: “Unite’s Serco Marine members have taken the difficult decision to strike because the company’s bosses, many of whom have never worked at sea, are refusing to listen to reason. 

“The workers are reluctantly taking strike action but feel as though they have no option. Changing from a one-week to a three-week rota will dangerously increase fatigue in a demanding job where there is absolutely no room for mistakes. It will also play havoc with people’s family lives.  

“The first strikes will take place between Christmas and New Year, with more planned for the beginning of January. The Ministry of Defence will not be happy that its contractor Serco Marine’s behaviour will cause Christmas chaos for Royal Navy vessels. Nor will the ministry be impressed that Serco is forcing through dangerous rota changes in order to eke every last penny out of the contract. 

“Serco’s behaviour is about greed not need. The company should drop these changes before the strike action and the disruption it will be bring goes ahead. The Ministry of Defence should also step in and shake some sense into Serco Marine’s shoreside management.”  


Notes to editors: 

The strike action at Devenport Dockyard will commence at 07:00 hours on 25 December and continue every day up to 30 December, when the action will conclude at 06:59 hours.

Further strike action will Commence at 07:00 hours on 11 January 2021, continuing every day up to 16 January when the action will conclude at 06:59 hours.

Plymouth faces ‘severe’ disruptions to Royal Navy vessel movements as Serco Marine tug strike ballot opens

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Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest union with members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.