Royal Fleet Auxiliary strike. Photo: Duncan Moore
Royal Fleet Auxiliary strike. Photo: Duncan Moore

Duncan Moore, Plymouth Socialist Party

RMT union members in the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) struck on Sunday 19 May for the first time in their history, in a dispute with the Ministry of Defence (MoD) over pay. The MoD has imposed a 4.5% rise.

The RFA is a civilian service which is critical to the operation of the Royal Navy, working four-month tours at sea, carrying out a wide range of duties, from refuelling and maintenance of vessels, to relief efforts following natural disasters and mine-hunting.

Strikers say pay has been cut by over 36% in real terms over 14 years. Crew numbers have fallen by 28%, while workloads have increased dramatically. RFA pensions and redundancy rights have also been undermined since 2010.

An RFA sailor of 23 years’ service told us:

“We’re on £20,000 a year less than Royal Navy sailors, although we’re taking on more and more of the same duties. We get none of the medical care, housing or other benefits. Ultimately, we’re essential to the operations of the Royal Navy, and we deserve to be paid properly.”

As we were speaking, an older man walking his dog stopped by and said he’d been in the RFA 50 years back. He was angered to hear about the deterioration of pay and conditions.

RMT members from bus and railway branches joined the picket line in Plymouth, and discussed with Socialist Party members about the prospects under an incoming Labour government. We encouraged them to attend the National Shop Stewards Network conference on 22 June to discuss what workers should demand of that government. Many agreed that unions must create a new political party for workers.