Unite members working for Capita at Her Majesty’s Naval Base Clyde will start a continuous overtime from today (Thursday 16 September) in a dispute over cuts to fire and rescue crew levels, and a lack of consultation. 

Capita management reduced the specialist fire safety crew by eight positions at Coulport and Faslane, which represents a cut of 15% at the nation’s nuclear naval bases on the Clyde. Capita won the contract in 2020 for fire response services from the Ministry of Defence (MoD). 

Unite members at Capita have supported taking action short of a strike by 100%, while 78% supported taking strike action in a ballot turnout of 91.1%.

Unite slammed the decision by Capita management to press ahead with cuts to fire crews, alongside the lack of promised new fire vehicles and updated equipment. The trade union representing around 45 fire safety crew workers has made repeated representations to Capita management raising ‘more concerns’, in addition to those around staffing levels.

Unite believes the cuts impair the abilities of the onsite fire crews to do their jobs properly, particularly in relation to incidents that would involve wearing breathing apparatus. Capita has stated that they intend to mitigate safety risks due to the cuts through an ‘investment in new technology to reduce fire risk’.  However, Unite is not aware of any new technology which would address ongoing safety concerns.

Due to breathing apparatus procedures, crews with only five staff would be unable to commit apparatus wearers at certain incidents without back-up from the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS), who would normally provide incident assistance at the nuclear naval bases. 

Unite understands that this ‘back-up’ service would be difficult to deliver due to SFRS’s current policy regarding radiation incidents and incidents onboard submarines. This means that SFRS staff who attend incidents may be unable to deliver the same firefighting and rescue actions that the current onsite specialist firefighters are trained to deliver. 

The SFRS also does not have the statutory right to enter premises like Coulport and Faslane. In order to inspect and plan for a scenario, they need the authority to inspect premises which currently does not exist.  

Unite has raised further safety concerns around Royal Navy search and rescue procedures, and how that in practice works with Capita or Local Authority search and rescue operations. Unite understands that in the event of any major incident, Royal Navy personnel would use their own emergency breathing system, which is hose-fed internally, and that their priority is to protect the vessel. In some circumstances, injured personnel would be placed in a safe place, rather than an extraction operation that would be the norm for a conventional fire team by either Capita or a Local Authority.

Debbie Hutchings, Unite industrial officer, said: “Unite’s fire and rescue workers at Capita will start an overtime ban from Thursday (16 September) over our major safety concerns at the Coulport and Faslane naval bases. We have been in dialogue with Capita since their decision to press ahead with cutting the fire response services at the bases, but more concerns have been raised throughout this process. There is a lack of clarity, cohesion and coordination about what would exactly happen in several major incident scenarios. We simply haven’t received any credible answers to our questions.  

“It’s deeply worrying that in all the years the bases have been in operation, there hasn’t been a practical exercise for maximum credible incident scenarios with all the relevant agency involvement. These are routine exercises which are regularly done on other safety critical sites but they are not happening at the naval bases. We are open to dialogue with Capita, and the other relevant organisations including the Royal Navy and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, to ensure that the correct level of planning and resources is in place because that doesn’t exist right now.”