INDUSTRIAL action which threatened to “cripple” the effective running of the UK’s nuclear submarine base on the Clyde has been called off, after workers agreed a pay deal.
Unite the union has confirmed that its members who provide specialist services for the UK’s nuclear deterrent submarines at the Royal Naval Armaments Depot (RNAD) Coulport have agreed a pay deal.
The long-running pay dispute with the ABL Alliance at Coulport escalated in mid-December when around 70 workers staged targeted days of 24-hour strike action. An overtime ban has been in place since last November.
Workers voted to take industrial action in September in what was then described as a “final warning shot” to ABL Alliance, a joint venture which won a 15-year contract from the Ministry of Defence in 2013 to maintain the weapons systems at Coulport.
Unite Scotland said the specialist staff who provide care and maintenance services for the weapons systems on the Royal Navy nuclear armed submarine fleet took the “historic” decision in a dispute over pay and had warned it would leave the base severely debilitated.
The ABL Alliance, made up of AWE plc, Babcock Marine (Clyde) Ltd, and Lockheed Martin UK Strategic Systems Ltd, had previously stated it was “disappointed” at the industrial action vote.
Unite now say the 70 workers at RNAD Coulport will now receive a backdated pay award for 2020 and 2021, which beats the inflation rates applicable to the period.
The ABL Alliance pay deal will include a £600 payment for 2020 along with a 3.5% pay increase effective from 1 August 2021. The award for 2021 represents an increase of between £908-£1,097 dependent upon the specific role of the workers.
Sharon Graham, the general secretary of Unite, said: “This is a substantial victory for Unite members at RNAD Coulport. It shows that when union members organise together and defend their jobs, pay and conditions, it is entirely possible to get intransigent employers to think again. Unite’s pay demands have now been met which will mean that our members will get backdated pay in their pockets of up to £1,700.”
The Clyde base is home to Britain’s fleet of four Vanguard class submarines equipped with Trident nuclear missiles and five other Astute and Trafalgar class nuclear-powered attack submarines.
There were plans to decommission the Vanguards in 2022 as part of the strategic defence and security review (SDSR), but that was extended until 2028.
The ABL Alliance joint venture was awarded a contract by the Ministry of Defence to provide support services for the Trident strategic weapon system back in 2012.
Under the 15-year contract, ABL Alliance provides services for the weapon system at Coulport, as well as the Strategic Weapon Support Building (SWSB) Faslane, which are part of the HM Naval Base Clyde.
Some 90.5% of Unite’s members based at RNAD Coulport previously voted ‘yes’ in support of strike action, and 95.3% supported action short of a strike, in a 90% ballot turnout in September.
Stevie Deans, Unite regional coordinator, added: “The dispute with the ABL Alliance employers has dragged on far longer than it needed to. This could have been resolved last autumn if there was a willingness by the employers to get this over the line. We hope that this pay deal will set the right tone for this year’s negotiations and the deal is a great example of workers standing up for what they deserve with their union’s support.”
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. As part of the contract, around 149 MoD civilian posts were transferred to ABL Alliance under the Transfer of Undertakings Protection of Employment (TUPE) Regulations (2006) to deliver support to the Trident system.
The posts include specialist SWS industrial and technical grades, warehousing operatives, logistic support services, supervisors and managers, as well as 39 additional Royal Navy posts.
The pay dispute is over the alleged 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.
Unite said 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 August 1, 2020 was offered which was considered acceptable to Unite members.
However in early December Unite said “the multi-million pound profitable employers” then put forward several “unacceptable” offers for 2021.
The union was concerned that all the companies could afford the pay rise as they were profitable. AWE Plc had an after tax profit of £17.7m in the year to December, 2020, Babcock Marine (Clyde) Ltd turned a £7.3m profit in 2019/20, while Lockheed Martin UK Strategic Systems Ltd was £41m in the black in 2019.