Unite Scotland today (Tuesday 7 September) confirmed that around 70 of its members who provide specialist services for the UK’s nuclear deterrent submarines are to be balloted for industrial action in a ‘historic’ development at the Royal Naval Armaments Depot (RNAD) Coulport.

The ballot over a pay dispute will open on Friday 10 September and close on Monday 20 September. If the ballot for industrial action is successful, then strike action, and action short of a strike, will take place from the beginning of October. 

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 that due to the specialist nature of the services then action short of a strike including an over time ban could potentially ‘cripple’ the operations at Coulport. 

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 (see Notes to Editor) then put forward several ‘unacceptable’ offers for 2021, and have so far refused to meet the RPI inflation pay claim (3.8% - July) made by Unite. 

Stevie Deans, Unite regional coordinating officer, said: “The industrial action ballot being launched by Unite’s members at the Royal Naval Armaments Depot (RNAD) Coulport is historic and unprecedented in recent times. The workforce has been extremely patient with the ABL Alliance employers, so much so, that we agreed to delay the pay award for 2020 until this year. After reaching a potentially successful resolution to that element of the pay claim the employers unfortunately tried to put their foot down through several unacceptable pay offers for 2021, which were all below inflation. This is despite the companies collectively turning over tens of millions in profit.

“Unite’s members have continued to work diligently, tirelessly and professionally throughout the pandemic. Yet, the ABL Alliance employers seem intent in provoking a fight by failing to recognise the exceptional skills and professionalism of our members by making below inflation pay offers. If the employers refuse to move, then following a successful ballot, industrial action could take place from the beginning of October.

“The reality is that due to the nature of the work performed even an over time ban could cripple the nation’s nuclear deterrent at Coulport. We urge the employers, once more, to work with us to positively resolve this dispute or the fallout will be fully laid at their doors.”


Notes to Editor:

Each company’s financial accounts for the period stated obtained from Companies House.

AWE Plc 




£1.03 billion

£986 million

Profit after tax

£17.7 million

£13.6 million

Highest Paid Director

£1 million

£1.2 million



Babcock Marine (Clyde) ltd




£178 million

£161 million

Profit after tax

£7.3 million

£8.5 million

Highest Paid Director





Lockheed Martin UK Strategic Systems Ltd 




£29.8 million

£21.2 million

Profit after tax

£41 million

£45.5 million

Highest Paid Director




Unite Scotland is the country’s biggest and most diverse trade union with around 150,000 members. The union is led in Scotland by Pat Rafferty.