SPECIALIST staff are to escalate industrial action in a dispute which a union has said is expected to "cripple" the effective running of UK's nuclear submarine base on the Clyde.

Unite Scotland has confirmed that its pay dispute with the ABL Alliance at the Royal Naval Armaments Depot (RNAD) Coulport is to escalate with around 70 workers set to take strike action from next week.

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.

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

The specialist staff who work for the UK’s nuclear deterrent submarines will start 24-hour strike action on 16 and 20 December, in addition to an overtime ban which has been ongoing since November 16.

Further days of strike action are scheduled on January 11 and 25 and February 8 and 22 if there is no progress in pay negotiations.

The union says that to date, the ABL Alliance employers have refused to meet the RPI inflation pay claim of 3.8% made by Unite.

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Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “For months now these extremely profitable companies have dragged their feet over giving our members the fair pay award they deserve. Unite’s priority is to fight for the jobs, pay and conditions of our members, and these highly skilled workers at Coulport and Faslane naval bases have the union’s full support in this dispute.”

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 ABL Alliance employers have completely disrespected, undervalued and underappreciated our members. Unite has continually sought to resolve this pay dispute but the ABL Alliance at every stage of the process have seem determined to force an escalation. Our members have been left with no choice but to take strike action in addition to the overtime ban, and we are determined to get the pay rise these workers deserve.”

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.

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.

AWE has been approached for comment.