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Defence: Priority call

The Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston, where workers are to be balloted over action on pay. Photo Ivaneol (CC BY-SA 3.0).

Unite, one of the main unions in the defence sector, has called on the government to prioritise British jobs and industries when tendering for defence contracts.

Speaking at the TUC in Brighton on 19 October, Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner said British taxpayers’ money has supported jobs in the US for too long – our government should be investing in jobs and communities in Britain.

He pointed out that, for example, “It doesn’t require an increase in defence spending to ensure that our naval support ships are built here with UK steel and composites, cabling and technologies, in shipyards from Appledore to Belfast, Birkenhead to Rosyth.” Commitment to the Dreadnought, Lynx and Tempest programmes would support thousands of skilled, unionised jobs across the country.

On the same day two trade unions, Unite and Prospect. announced that workers at the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) would be balloted for industrial action over pay. AWE is responsible for maintaining Britain’s nuclear weapons.

AWE has recently changed status, supposedly becoming free of direct public sector pay restriction as an arm’s length agency of the Ministry of Defence. But even so it made a below inflation pay offer, “sweetened” by a one-off lump sum.

Prospect said that the offer made by AWE was inadequate and warned that workers in this highly complex sector could not easily be replaced. There are already issues with recruitment and retention, which will only become worse.