Royal Naval shipping movements around Plymouth could face ‘severe’ disruption if specialist tug operators at Devonport’s naval base employed by Serco Marine go on strike, Unite, the UK’s leading union, warned today (Monday 23 November).

Around 40 tractor tug crew members are being balloted for strike action 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.

Unite said that its members are ‘extremely angry and ready to fight’ against the proposed changes, which 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 ballot opens on Tuesday 24 November and will close on Wednesday 2 December, with possible strike action beginning as early as next month. 

Unite regional officer Terry Keefe said: “Devonport tug crews have delivered a 100 per cent success rate right through the coronavirus crisis, even though much of Serco’s dockside management was absent. 

“While our members were out on the water keeping operations going, their bosses were sat at home planning changes that will dangerously increase fatigue amongst crews, deprive them of annual leave and play havoc with people’s personal lives.

“Serco Marine will not enter into sensible negotiations and have refused an offer to join talks mediated by the conciliation service Acas, primarily, we believe, because their proposals will be exposed as unreasonable and made in bad faith.

“Our members are extremely angry and ready to fight against what are in effect attacks on their quality of life. Unite is confident that the strike ballot will result in a yes vote. This not something our members want to do, but they have been forced into a corner by Serco Marine. 

“Before we get to the point where Royal Navy shipping movements face severe disruptions, we urge Serco Marine to recognise how damaging these rota changes will be, get back around the table and resolve this unnecessary dispute in a reasonable manner.” 


During the coronavirus crisis Unite is working to keep workers and the public safe, to defend jobs and to protect incomes.

For media enquires ONLY contact Unite communications officer Ryan Fletcher on 07849 090215.

Email: [email protected]

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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.