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Workers escalate strike action at defence supply complex

Wednesday, August 9, 2023

Workers escalate strike at Ministry of Defence supply complex

Staff at a defence supply plant have backed a dramatic escalation of industrial action in their fight for fair pay.

GMB Scotland members at the Ministry of Defence complex in Beith, North Ayrshire, will walk out for two weeks later this month after four days of targeted strikes failed to secure a resolution.

Politicians in Scotland and Kyiv have urged defence secretary Ben Wallace to intervene to avert the looming action at the plant supplying UK armed forces while also shipping missiles to Ukraine.

The centre is run by Defence, Equipment & Support (DE&S) but staff describe a two-tier workplace where the gap between the salaries of craft workers, who assemble the munitions, and non-craft colleagues, who support their work and prepare equipment for transport, has widened dramatically.

Extra payments and bonuses have been made to managers and craft workers in recent years but not to non-craft colleagues earning less than £21,000 a year while being asked to take responsibility for multi-million pound military equipment.

GMB Scotland says the pay gap between craft and non-craft workers has quickly tripled to £18,000 at the depot and warns the escalating strike, the first in the history of DE&S and backed by 93% of members, may disrupt shipments.

GMB Scotland secretary Louise Gilmour urged management to resolve the dispute or risk long-term damage to industrial relations.

“A two-tier culture has been allowed to embed itself in this workplace and risks good working relationships now and in the future.

“Our members are doing important and responsible jobs and simply want that work to be fairly recognised. Instead, they have seen the gap between their salaries and that of their colleagues stretch wider and wider.

“Everyone brings different skills to their work and that should be recognised but the role of our members is fundamental to the effective operation of this important site.

“They are only asking for fairness and the support they have received from Scotland to Ukraine shows why they deserve it.”

A number of MPs have written to the defence secretary urging him to intervene and secure resolution to the dispute while Lesia Vasylenko, an influential Ukrainian MP, also thanked the strikers for their “life-saving” work.

The Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Ukraine (KVPU) voiced support while craft workers at Beith have signed a petition backing the action taken by their colleagues.

More than 50 workers at Beith will begin a two-week strike on 21 August but GMB Scotland has called on management to end the dispute before further escalation.

SNP defence spokesperson Dave Doogan MP, a member of the House of Commons defence committee, is urging the defence secretary Ben Wallace to intervene adding: “This industrial action is wholly avoidable and in fact unprecedented within this element of defence. I fully support those workers who have been forced to take this action following intransigence by the UK Government.

“The Secretary of State must immediately intervene, so that key workers are not penalised in this way during a cost-of-living crisis of Westminster’s making and while the results of their labours are directly assisting Ukraine’s war effort.”

GMB Scotland organiser Chris Kennedy said: “This is the first strike at DES and management should listen to the voices being raised in support, from Scotland to Kyiv, and negotiate a settlement that treats workers with fairness and respect.”