Strike threat could leave HMS Queen Elizabeth stuck in port, union warns

HMS Queen Elizabeth at anchor in Portsmouth Naval Base
HMS Queen Elizabeth at anchor in Portsmouth Naval Base

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BRITAIN’S new aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth may not be able to leave her home port of Portsmouth if a national pay dispute involving tug boat crew steams ahead.

Unite, the country’s largest union, warned of choppy waters if Serco Marine Services, which employs the 350 tug boat crew at Greenock, Faslane, Kyle in Scotland and Devonport, as well as at Portsmouth, did not increase its ‘derisory’ pay offer.

The union said if members voted for strike action, the first casualty would be the £3.1bn Queen Elizabeth, the Royal Navy’s largest-ever warship, which would be unable to leave Portsmouth as scheduled next month.

It comes amid an ongoing pay dispute between Serco and the Ministry of Defence, where staff overwhelmingly rejected a 1.8 per cent pay rise for 2016/7 and 2.2 per cent for 2017/8.

Unite national officer Bobby Morton said: ‘If our members vote for strike action it will create waves industrially and one of the first effects will be the inability of Queen Elizabeth to leave the Portsmouth naval base in October, as it needs the tugs to help navigate it to open water.’

Rob Hales, Serco’s maritime services director, said he was confident if a ballot led to a strike that the company would find a way to minimise the impact on the Royal Navy.

He said: ‘Serco Maritime Services has given our staff a generous pay increase of 4.0 per cent over two years and more recently we have made a further good offer that would result in a total pay increase of 4.4 per cent for 2016 and 2017.

‘This is despite the fact that this contract is making significant losses and we are therefore disappointed that Unite have chosen to ballot for industrial action without offering members the opportunity to vote on this recently improved offer.

‘If this ballot does lead to industrial action, we are confident that we can work with the Royal Navy to find ways that will minimise the impact on the vast majority of the services we provide for their ships, including the new aircraft carriers.’

A spokeswoman for the navy said the Ministry of Defence was ‘monitoring the situation closely’.