Royal Navy support sailors vote to strike - and it 'could put security at risk'

Civilian sailors on the Royal Navy's support fleet have for the first time voted for strike action over a significant erosion in pay in a move that could impact UK security.

A union representing hundreds of Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) officers said 79% of its members voted in favour of striking should efforts to secure an improved pay deal fail.

Such a move, if it went ahead, would have a direct impact on UK military operations globally.

"The RFA is critical for the tasks that the Royal Navy does as well as supporting wider UK interests abroad," said Martyn Gray, director of organising at the Nautilus International union.

It was an RFA ship - RFA Lyme Bay - that recently delivered hundreds of pallets of aid and medical supplies to Egypt to be transferred into Gaza.

In the worst case scenario, should officers decide they have no choice but to go on strike "it has the potential to put security at risk", Mr Gray told Sky News.

He said the union was "seeking to have urgent talks with the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and the RFA" to agree a new pay offer - well above a 4.5% pay increase that was proposed last year.

"This is a turning point for them [RFA officers] and they are deciding to take industrial action - this is something they have never done before," Mr Gray said.

The RFA comprises sailors - officers and ratings - who are employed as civil servants rather than members of the armed forces.

However, they crew large support ships that deploy on operations with the Royal Navy around the world and also carry out missions solo.

The Nautilus union balloted its members over strike action after it received the 4.5% pay offer - well below last year's inflation rate.

RFA employees have suffered a real terms pay cut of more than 30% since 2010, the union said.

This has led to "significant challenges in recruitment and retention and low morale across the workforce", it said in a statement.

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As well as those who voted for strike action, 85% of members voted yes to action short of a strike. There was a 60% turnout.

Serving members of the armed forces have also been deeply unhappy about their pay settlements but they are not allowed to go on strike.

A similar ethos of service runs through the RFA, making its decision to be willing to take industrial action particularly significant.

In a message to the MoD and the RFA, Mr Gray said: "For this group of professionals to have reached a point that they feel their only option is to vote for strike action… it should be a huge red flag that something needs to be done."

A Royal Navy spokesperson said: "The Royal Navy remain engaged with Maritime Trade Unions representing Royal Fleet Auxiliary personnel regarding the proposed pay offer.

"It would be inappropriate for the Royal Navy to speculate on any possible outcome of those discussions or strike action at this point. However, during any negotiations RFA operations remain unaffected and they continue to support the Royal Navy and our allies around the world."