SPECIALIST staff have voted to down tools in an industrial dispute expected to "strike at the heart" of the UK's nuclear submarine base on the Clyde.

Around 70 RNAD Coulport nuclear naval base workers have voted to take industrial action in what is 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 has confirmed that its members 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 that it says will leave the base severely debilitated.

Some 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.

The ABL Alliance, made up of AWE plc, Babcock Marine (Clyde) Ltd, and Lockheed Martin UK Strategic Systems Ltd, said it was "disappointed" at the development.

"We are assessing the impact of the proposed action on the programme and will continue to seek a resolution through dialogue with Unite Scotland," it said.

The trade union has confirmed 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.

Strike action has not been rule out.

Unite said it is understood that 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.

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They 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.

HeraldScotland:

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.

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.

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."

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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 say 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, and would be acceptable to Unite members.

However, what Unite described as "the multi-million pound profitable employers" then put forward several "unacceptable" offers for 2021.

So far the ABL Alliance employers have refused to meet the 3.8% RPI inflation pay claimmade by Unite.

The union is 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.