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Defence Equipment and Support site in Beith

Volume 747: debated on Friday 15 March 2024

The petition of residents of the constituency of North Ayrshire and Arran

Declares deep concern about the ongoing industrial dispute at Defence Equipment and Support in Beith, North Ayrshire (an arm’s-length body of the Ministry of Defence); further that this strike, for improved pay and conditions is unprecedented; notes that non-craft workers preparing arms for shipment at the depot face discrimination in the payment of bonuses, relative to craft workers who assemble munitions; further that the petitioners reject the fact that retention payments are made to managers and craft workers, while non-craft workers earning less than £21,000 per year have been excluded from retention bonuses and stands with the workers in rejecting a two-tier workforce.

The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urge the Government to take into account the concerns of the petitioners and urgently intervene to ensure a fair resolution to the industrial dispute.

And the petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Patricia Gibson, Official Report, 15 January 2024; Vol. 743, c. 800.]


Observations from the Minister for Defence Procurement (James Cartlidge):

The Defence munitions site at Beith is involved in the processing and outload of multiple complex weapons systems in support of a range of operations, including Operation SCORPIUS—support to the Ukraine.

The GMB union submitted a collective grievance on 1 December 2022, citing the exclusion of some staff at the Beith site from a series of retention measures brought in in 2022, leading to industrial action on a number of dates from July 2023. The GMB’s first mandate expired on 16 December but, following a second ballot, it has a further six-month mandate for strike and action short of strike.

The retention bonus in dispute was set up to address the high attrition rates—39%—in the craft fitter and engineering manager roles, which presented an unacceptable risk to operational outputs. This bonus was to be paid for two years, along with an additional local allowance. These arrangements reflect the skills, capabilities, experience and qualifications, as well as the different levels of responsibility and accountability, of the staff in these roles who undertake different work and are at a different pay grade from those taking the action. It is normal practice, in both public and private sectors, to have differing rates paid for workers with different skills and qualifications. DE&S has investigated the issues raised in the grievance and concluded that there were no grounds to support making the signatories eligible for the retention measures as attrition in these roles was and remains low.

I note that the petition states that non-craft fitters earn less than £21,000. I can confirm that from 1 April 2023 the minimum full-time salary for non-craft fitters was £21,971. This was raised again from 1 August to £23,500 for operatives, and to £25,200 for supervisors, with many staff earning in excess of these minimum rates.

A generous pay offer remains on the table, which would significantly improve the pay of the workers in dispute. This is beyond the recent 2023 pay award, which has already significantly uplifted base pay for these specific workers, alongside over £4,000 in bonuses in 2023. As part of those one-off bonuses, in January 2023 an award of £1,500 was delivered specifically to recognise and thank these non-craft fitters for their ongoing work to support critical operations.

DE&S has confirmed a commitment to implement a new capability pay model in these roles in April 2024, ahead of the rest of the organisation. This will ensure that the pay of all individuals who do their job to the expected standards and behave in a way that is commensurate with DE&S values will increase by 37% —and it will increase by up to 43.5% for those that go above this—within a two-year period from April 2022.

Unfortunately, GMB demanded a lump sum payment of £11,650 (50% of base pay) now, with a further £4,000 (17% of base pay) annually going forwards, which is neither affordable nor appropriate, given local market conditions. The GMB met with DE&S’s chief executive officer, Andy Start, on 1 February as part of the dispute resolution process. The outcome of this meeting is expected to be issued to the union in the near future.

It is disappointing that GMB members have voted to continue industrial action. However, DE&S officials remain open to talks on a constructive basis with the GMB.