THE industrial dispute at the Clyde naval base between Babcock and the Unite trade union has deepened over claims by union officials that its members have been banned from "political lobbying".

Unite alleges that Babcock Marine have told employees at the base that any such activities may "distort" the competition process around the Ministry of Defence's Future Maritime Support Programme (FMSP).

Babcock denies the claims, saying its workers are still entitled to engage with politicians – as long as discussions don't involve commercially-sensitive information.

Unite is currently balloting its members at Faslane and Coulport on possible industrial action over pay and bargaining rights relating to the FMSP process.

Stephen Deans, Unite's regional coordinating officer, said: "“Unite has sought legal advice over what we believe is a blanket ban by Babcock Marine on our members to legitimately engage in the political process.

"What appears to be the case is that the company are stating that our members can’t discuss anything with politicians over the present and future workplace arrangements following the outcome of the Ministry of Defence’s Future Maritime Support Programme.

READ MORE: Strike threat looms at Faslane and Coulport as union announces ballot on industrial action

"This means in practice that there is a ban on workers from engaging with politicians over non-commercially sensitive information, even if that is in a private parliamentary session.

“The approach by Babcock Marine is excessive in the extreme to the extent that it appears the workforce can’t discuss the situation at the base with the Defence Secretary, Ben Wallace, or even the First Minister.

"We are challenging this position because it’s vital that workers in a democratic society are able to discuss issues at the bases with politicians.”

The Helensburgh and Lomond area's MSP, Jackie Baillie, said: “It is unacceptable that such a blanket ban has been put on Unite members and Babcock employees to limit their ability to engage with politicians and lobby on key issues.

“Everyone, whether an employer or an employee, should be able to have open and direct discussions with elected members - this is key to our democracy and banning trade union members from doing so is an assault on their democratic rights.

"I encourage Babcock Marine to rethink their position urgently.”

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West Dunbartonshire MP Martin Docherty-Hughes added: “Report after report from the National Audit Office, Defence Committee or even MoD themselves has shown how, over the years, billions have been squandered on contracts because of a lack of proper scrutiny and accountability.

"Trades unions are a vital part of that scrutiny, speaking for those who will ultimately undertake the work on these contracts and who therefore have the greatest insight as to its viability.

“These Unions also keep MPs like myself appraised on this work, and I find their input essential when it comes to the democratic oversight of large contracts like the FMSP.

"Being deprived of that insight means not being able to fully undertake that role, and it is therefore vital that this gagging order is lifted to ensure that the mistakes of the past are not replicated, and that taxpayers can regain faith in the system they oversee.”

A Babcock spokesperson said: "There is no ban on Babcock employees engaging with politicians over non-commercially sensitive information.

READ MORE: Unite members "vote overwhelmingly" to end strike action at naval base (from 2017)

"We fully recognise the right of all our employees, including those who are members of trades unions, to engage with politicians on matters of interest to them using information which is in the public domain.

"Babcock is currently in a confidential procurement process with the MoD and is not permitted to share commercially sensitive information."

The FMSP competition process is expected to reach a conclusion in April, with work from the programme estimated to be worth between £175 million and £200 million between April 2021 and March 2026.

But Unite is concerned that splitting contracts into smaller work packages could jeopardise the UK's military power and nuclear response capabilities.

The Unite ballot ends on Thursday, February 25.

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