A two-week strike due to hit a British munitions plant that supplies missiles to Ukraine has been suspended after the Ministry of Defence agreed to talks.
Nearly 50 workers at the site at Beith, in Ayrshire, which assembles the Storm Shadow and Brimstone missiles, had been due to walk out for a fortnight next Monday in a long-running row over pay and bonuses.
Strikes by GMB members were the first in the history of Defence Equipment & Support, the MoD agency that handles the military’s supplies, equipment and weapons and runs the Beith site.
It is thought the MoD will table new proposals to improve pay and bonuses for GMB members who carry out “non-craft” roles such as handling and loading the missiles.
Their higher-skilled craft colleagues employed to assemble the weapons, as well as site managers, are thought to be paid up to £18,000 a year more after DE&S increased their salaries to stop them quitting for higher-paid private sector defence jobs.
The two sides will hold talks at the Acas arbitration and conciliation service in an effort to strike a deal.
An MoD spokesperson said: “We are referring this dispute to Acas’s conciliation service, which will help us explore potential opportunities that we can agree on to find a resolution. This is a voluntary process and is a clear measure of our willingness and intent to engage constructively and productively with GMB to resolve this issue.”
A GMB Scotland official said: “We won’t have any new information until the meeting in three weeks but Acas made clear only decision-makers should attend and the assumption is that they won’t come empty-handed. The convention is to give them a chance and assume good faith.”
The MoD has said the industrial action would not hit shipments to Ukraine, and said it had contingency plans in place to ensure the smooth running of the plant if the strike went ahead.
The GMB’s industrial action began in July with a series of one-day stoppages and won support from Ukrainian trade unions, a Ukrainian opposition MP and the Scottish National party’s defence spokesperson, Dave Doogan. Doogan had urged Ben Wallace, the UK defence secretary, to intervene.
Louise Gilmour, the GMB’s Scotland secretary, said: “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.”
• This article was amended on 17 August 2023. An earlier version misnamed Dave Doogan, the SNP’s defence spokesperson, as David Duggan.