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Keep Britain afloat

Unite urges new defence secretary Penny Mordaunt to ‘keep Britain afloat’
Hajera Blagg, Monday, May 20th, 2019

Unite is again calling on the government to support British jobs and build the next generation of Naval support ships in the UK as it ramps up its Keep Britain Afloat campaign and celebrates a victory in Rugby.


The union has asked members and the wider public to send a “massive message of protest” by sending an email to new defence secretary Penny Mordaunt ahead of her giving evidence at a select committee hearing tomorrow (May 21).


So far nearly 2m members of trade unions Unite, GMB, Prospect and Community have sent emails telling the government to grant the contract to build Naval support ships to a British consortium.


The Carrier Alliance consortium, formed of UK firms Babcock, Rolls-Royce, Cammell Laird and BAE Systems, is now bidding for the contract to build two or possibly three 40,000 ton Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessels. But they must compete against companies from Spain and Japan, who are also vying for the contract, which will be awarded next year.


The consortium was also competing against firms from South Korea and Italy but it was reported today (May 20) that those companies had dropped out of the running.


Now that work on the Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers is coming to an end and the support ship contract has not yet been secured, Unite fears that without a continuous flow of work in British shipyards, large-scale redundancies will be inevitable.


The Keep Britain Afloat campaign, whose affiliates include Unite, GMB, Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions (CSEU), Community and Prospect, has estimated that 20,000 skilled jobs in shipyards and 20,000 jobs in supply chains are now at risk, as the video below explains:



Ian Waddell, general secretary of CSEU, which is affiliated with Unite, said that the “end to boom and bust contracts is the best way to ensure that critical skills are retained, and our shipyards can compete in the global marketplace.


“Unfortunately, rather than build on the success of the Carrier Alliance and put it to work on the next generation of ships, the UK government is seeking to build support ships for the Carrier fleet through the medium of international competition,” he added. “Meanwhile, UK yards are starved of work and closures and redundancies are already starting to blight the industry.”


Last month, Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner gave evidence at a defence select committee hearing on military procurement policy.


Turner told the defence committee that the only reason the contract for Naval support ships has been tendered worldwide is that the government has “an ideological obsession” with free markets.


He added, “It’s a political choice, rather than about economics.”


Rugby victory

As unions ramp up the pressure on the government over the Naval support ship contract, Unite hailed a victory for shipbuilding today (May 20) after plans to move Royal Navy ship engine work from Rugby to France were scuppered.


GE workers whose jobs were at risk were told that the Ministry of Defence had signed off on an order for the second batch Type 26 Frigates motors to be built at the GE Rugby site. The decision secures the immediate future of the Rugby plant, which employs over 250 people making power conversion units.


GE had previously announced the site’s closure with its work being moved to Nancy in France by the end of 2019.


Turner hailed the latest news.


“If it had not been for the tenacity of Unite’s shop stewards and our members then we could have been looking at confirmation that GE’s Rugby site would close and its work shipped abroad,” he said. “Instead this world class workforce, whose skills and expertise has built motors which power all the Royal Navy’s warships, can look forward to working on the second batch of Type 26 Frigates.


“Unite’s priority is now to reduce the number of potential redundancies at the site and secure its long-term future. We urge the government to build on today’s announcement and ensure vital skills and knowledge are not lost for a generation by working with us to ensure the site has a pipeline of work for years to come,” he added.


“With news that two of the international bidders for the Navy’s solid support ships have withdrawn, this must mean guaranteeing that these new ships are built in the UK, powered by motors from the UK and made with UK steel,” Turner went on to say.


“Anything less would be a betrayal of the UK’s global status as a leader in shipbuilding and manufacturing and the communities these industries sustain.”


You can help keep shipbuilding in the UK alive by sending a message of protest to the government. Find out more on the Keep Britain Afloat website.


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