EXECUTIVES at the UK's nuclear submarine base on the Clyde are in negotiations to continue "safe operations" as specialist staff down tools today in an industrial dispute union leaders say is expected to "cripple" its effective running.

The Unite Scotland union has confirmed that around 70 of its members who provide specialist services for the UK’s nuclear deterrent submarines will start an overtime at the Royal Naval Armaments Depot (RNAD) Coulport.

The union has severely criticised the "delay tactics" employed by the ABL Alliance after the 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 that it says will leave the base severely debilitated.

Since then, the union say the ABL Alliance refused to meet over what it called an RPI inflation annual pay claim of 3.8%.

Now the ABL Alliance says that it is making contingency plans to deal with the stoppage.

An ABL Alliance spokesman said: "Unfortunately, at this time the ABL Alliance (AWE plc, Babcock Marine (Clyde) Ltd, and Lockheed Martin UK Strategic Systems Ltd) has been unable to reach a satisfactory resolution with Unite Scotland.

"We continue to keep dialogue open with the Union and in the interim, measures to mitigate the impact of industrial action are being implemented. We are working closely with the Ministry of Defence to support continued safe operations at RNAD Coulport."

Some 90.5% of Unite members at RNAD Coulport voted in support of strike action, and 95.3% supporting action short of a strike.

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

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “Unite’s members at (RNAD) Coulport have been left with no option but to take industrial action. The attitude adopted by the ABL Alliance has been disingenuous and they have deliberately frustrated the process in an effort to prevent our members getting a decent and fair pay.

HeraldScotland:

"Our members will have our full support in their battle for justice in the workplace.” 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.

The workers involved in the dispute provide care and maintenance services for the weapons systems on the Royal Navy nuclear armed submarine fleet.

The union state it is understood that due to the specialist nature of the services provided that even an overtime ban could potentially ‘cripple’ the effective running of operations at the naval bases.

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.

Stevie Deans, Unite regional coordinator, added: “The ABL Alliance employers have continued to use delay tactics over six weeks since our members voted for industrial action. Instead of using this period to find a positive resolution to the dispute, the ABL Alliance have dangled the promise of new offers in front of our members, and then blamed other parties including the Treasury for absolutely nothing concrete coming forward. It’s part of a charade to spin this out and our members won’t tolerate this anymore. A continuous overtime ban is now set to start, and if this doesn’t knock some sense into the companies then all options remain on the table for us including strike action.”

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.

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 which was considered acceptable to Unite members.

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

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.