Unite Scotland has confirmed that around 70 of its members who provide specialist services for the UK’s nuclear deterrent submarines have voted to support industrial action at the Royal Naval Armaments Depot (RNAD) Coulport.

90.5% of Unite’s members based at RNAD Coulport voted ‘yes’ in support of strike action, and 95.3% supported action short of a strike in a 90% ballot turnout.

Unite has said the ‘emphatic’ ballot result should serve as a 'final warning shot’ to the ABL Alliance employers involved in the pay dispute. The trade union has confirmed that it will now consult its members at RNAD Coulport to consider various forms of industrial action, which it is anticipated will take place from the beginning of October, if there is no breakthrough in pay talks.

The workers involved in the ballot provide care and maintenance services for the weapons systems on the Royal Navy nuclear armed submarine fleet. Due to national security reasons some of the roles cannot be disclosed. It’s understood due to the specialist nature of the services that even action short of a strike - including an overtime ban - could potentially ‘cripple’ the effective running of operations at the naval bases. 

The Unite membership involved in the dispute are employed by three separate employers. The companies are AWE plc, Babcock Marine (Clyde) Ltd, and Lockheed Martin UK Strategic Systems Ltd. The companies are part of the ABL Alliance which is a joint venture awarded a contract by the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD).  

Under the 15-year contract, which commenced in January 2013, the ABL Alliance provide services for the weapon system at Coulport, as well as the Strategic Weapon Support Building (SWSB) Faslane. Unite’s members, as a result of the 2013 contract, were TUPE transferred from MoD employment to each of the three employers respectively. 

AWE workers are involved mainly in the maintenance side of the weapon system operation, whereas the Lockheed Martin workers are responsible for specialist engineering and quality control. Babcock workers provide the Jetty Services at RNAD Coulport.  Currently, the UK Navy operates four Vanguard-class submarines, which were planned to be decommissioned in 2022 as part of the strategic defence and security review (SDSR), but were extended until 2028. 

The pay dispute is over the failure by the ABL Alliance employers to meet Unite’s 2021 wage claim, despite the union agreeing on several occasions to delay pay talks due to the Covid pandemic.  It was mutually agreed that the pay award for 2020 would be negotiated retrospectively, and negotiated currently for 2021.  

After months of negotiations, a £600 backdated pay uplift to 1 August 2020 was offered, and would be acceptable to Unite members. However, the multi-million pound profitable employers then put forward several ‘unacceptable’ offers for 2021 (see Notes to Editor). So far, the ABL Alliance employers have refused to meet the RPI inflation pay claim (3.8% - July) made by Unite. 

Stevie Deans, Unite regional coordinating officer, said: “The emphatic vote in support of industrial action at RNAD Coulport is a final warning shot to the ABL Alliance. Let’s be clear about the significance of this result: by over 90% Unite’s members support taking forms of industrial action in a ballot turnout of 90% at the nation’s nuclear naval bases. It’s historic and unprecedented in recent times.

“We have been extremely patient with the ABL Alliance employers. For the record, Unite agreed to delay the pay award for 2020 until this year. Then after reaching a potentially successful resolution to that part of the pay claim, the employers decided to stonewall us for 2021. This is despite the ABL Alliance being highly profitable.

“The reality is that due to the nature of the work performed by our members even an overtime ban could cripple the effective running of operations at RNAD Coulport. If the employers refuse to move quickly, then industrial action will strike at the heart of the nation’s nuclear deterrent in a matter of weeks."