Unions challenge defence firms on independence

Trades unions have dismissed comments by a defence industry chief on independence, saying they do not answer key concerns about the future of Scottish jobs.

Ian King, chief executive of warship builder BAE Systems said that independence was “a matter for the people of Scotland” but added that in the event of a Yes vote in September, the company would embark on talks with the Ministry of Defence in London about how to “deliver the best solution in those circumstances”.

But in a letter to The Scotsman published today, eight trades union conveners have demanded greater clarity from five of the biggest defence companies – including BAE – in response to warnings from Westminster that the Ministry of Defence may not place contracts in an independent Scotland.

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BAE employs around 3,000 workers on the Clyde and is helping to construct two new Royal Navy aircraft carriers. It joins a list of firms including Standard Life, Royal Bank of Scotland, Shell, Lloyds and Barclays in highlighting the risks associated with the September vote.

Mr King said: “BAE Systems has significant interests and employees in Scotland, and it is clear that continued union offers greater certainty and stability for our business.”

“In the event that Scotland voted to become independent, we would need to discuss the way forward with the Ministry of Defence and UK government, and work with them to deliver the best solution in those circumstances.”

The company recently agreed to begin advance work on three new Royal Navy offshore patrol vessels (OPVs) after the Ministry of Defence signed a £20m parts contract. They will be built at BAE Systems’ two Glasgow shipyards at Govan and Scotstoun.

Union officials are concerned that the defence companies are failing to come clean on the independence referendum despite the industry being a core issue of the campaign.

Scotland is currently home to a £1.8 billion defence industry involved in activities ranging from warship building and radar to night vision equipment and engines. The wider industry, including aerospace and maritime industries includes 800 companies employing 40,000 workers.

The letter to The Scotsman is signed by conveners from the GMB, Prospect, UCATT and Unite who form the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions (CSEU).

They are worried by warnings about contracts and jobs from Prime Minister David Cameron and Defence Secretary Philip Hammond.

The letter is addressed to Peter Rogers at Babcock; Jean-Bernard Levy at Thales; John Rishton at Rolls-Royce and Fabrizio Giulianini, Selex, as well as Mr King at BAE.

It states: “It is of great concern to us that our respective employers have yet to communicate directly with their employees to explain the implications of the referendum on the defence industry in Scotland.

“We are concerned that defence industrial sites in Scotland are in a vulnerable position based on the statements that have come from the UK government in relation to Ministry of Defence contracts.”

Eight conveners at the above mentioned plants demand urgent clarification from their chief executives on what Scottish independence means for present and future order books, investment policy in infrastructure, capital projects, technology development, pension schemes, as well as apprenticeships and training.

“The independence debate is intensifying across workplaces in the defence industry,” say the conveners.

“It’s imperative that the men and women we represent go to the ballot box with their eyes wide open. It is high time for the senior figures of Scotland’s defence industry to show some leadership and guidance and assist their employees in making an informed choice based on fact rather than speculation.”

Responding to BAE’s intervention, a Better Together spokesman: “This is an important intervention from one of Scotland’s largest employers and underlines the huge risks involved with leaving the UK.

“The defence industry employs thousands of people in Scotland because we are part of the UK. If we walk away from the UK then we walk away from the UK investment that sustains the jobs of so many communities throughout Scotland.”

He added: “The UK Government has never built a warship outside of the UK. The idea that we could leave the UK but UK warships would continue to be built here simply isn’t credible.

“Alex Salmond may think that thousands of shipyard jobs are a price worth paying to achieve his life long dream of independence, but most people in Scotland don’t agree.”

Labour’s shadow Scottish secretary Margaret Curran said: “Thousands of jobs in Scotland rely on shipbuilding. Not just in our yards but also in the vast supply chain that supports jobs in businesses across the country.

“It’s time that the SNP came clean with people across Scotland and admitted that their plans for shipbuilding just don’t add up.”

Last night Hugh Scullion, general secretary of the CSEU, told The Scotsman that Mr King’s remarks did not go far enough to clarify his company’s position. He said the comments had said “nothing which addresses the issues raised by the conveners in the letter”.

Union shop stewards and Scottish politicians will meet in Glasgow on Monday to demand more answers.

One of the signatories, Andy Johnston, site convener for Unite at opticals plant Thales in Glasgow, said: “David Cameron is saying MoD contracts would not come here if Scotland votes yes to independence.That rings alarm bells for us. Philip Hammon is also saying jobs are under threat.

“We are not saying that people should vote yes or no, but if they vote yes they vote themselves out of a job. On the other hand, we have had redundancies as part of the UK. But at least we have a government endorsing us and backing our exports.”

Another who signed the letter, John Dolan, convener for the GMB union at BAE shipyard in Scotstoun, said: “The UK government has made it abundantly clear that they would not order ships from a foreign country.

“We would like the chief executives to come off the fence.”

Dolan said he retires in two weeks time after 32 years working in the shipyards but was prepared to make this last gesture to help future generations.

“There were people who kept the shipyards open for me and I want to do the same for the young ones now wanting work in the yards,” he said.

Monday’s meeting will be attended by Keith Brown, the Scottish Scottish Government transport secretary and by MSPs and MPs fron Labour, including Johann Lamont, but no other party is likely to take part.

It is being organised by Kenny Jordan, Unite district secretary, who said pressure was now mounting on companies to declare their position. He said the independence campaign will have been discussed in boardrooms and needed to be conveyed to the workplace.

“I am sure any business or organisation of that size would need to be making contingency plans one way or another and it is only right that they feed that down to their employees.

“We are looking for clarification from the chief executives and on Monday from the representatives of the Yes and No campaigns.”