Workers at a British weapons plant that supplies missiles to Ukraine are to stage a two-week strike after accusing the Ministry of Defence of breaking a pledge to hold meaningful pay talks.
The GMB trade union said on Thursday that nearly 50 staff who handle Storm Shadow and Brimstone missiles assembled at an MoD munitions plant at Beith in Ayrshire would go on strike from Monday.
The union suspended its plans to stage that strike in mid-August after the MoD agreed to talks at the conciliation service Acas but union leaders said they did so under false pretences and in bad faith.
There was no substantive offer, said Chris Kennedy, a GMB Scotland organiser. “We had been assured decision-makers would be arriving with constructive proposals to resolve this dispute but they didn’t and there wasn’t,” he added.
“There was nothing new to discuss and nothing new to take back to our members. If the MoD was advised this was how to proceed, it was badly advised.
“It was, in fact, an exercise in bad faith and disrespect and has only hardened our members’ determination to secure fair pay. They do not want to strike but have been given no choice.”
The strike is a significant escalation of a simmering dispute between the GMB’s members at Beith and the Defence Equipment & Support (DE&S) agency – the MoD agency that handles the military’s supplies, equipment and weapons – over their pay and bonuses. In June and July, it staged a handful of one-day stoppages, the first in the agency’s history.
The GMB estimates its members, who handle, load and transport the missiles, are up to £18,000 a year worse off than the specialist staff who assemble them. Those skilled “craft” employees were given pay and bonuses increases to stop them leaving for better-paid private sector jobs.
Their campaign for better pay won the support from trade union leaders and opposition politicians in Ukraine, and from the Scottish National party. The GMB said the plant’s craft workers had signed a petition backing the pay demands from their non-craft colleagues.
The MoD said it had contingency plans in place to minimise disruption and said the strike would have no effect on missile deliveries to Ukraine.
In August, the MoD implied it would make a better offer in the Acas talks.
“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,” the MoD said in mid-August. “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.”
It claimed on Thursday that it had made a fair offer to the strikers. “DE&S management has put forward an offer which would significantly improve the pay of the workers in dispute in a sustainable and affordable way,” a spokesperson said. “[As] with all employers, employees are paid differently depending on grade as well as the nature of their role.”
Louise Gilmour, GMB Scotland’s secretary, said: “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.”