Royal Navy Strike Threatens to Strand Troops Abroad

( – Britain’s Royal Navy faces a serious risk to its ability to operate globally. Officers in the auxiliary force that runs its tankers and support ships are threatening to strike over pay. If the strike goes ahead, Royal Marines could find themselves stuck overseas.

Britain’s warships are operated by the Royal Navy — but the vital logistics ships that support them, along with amphibious warfare ships, actually belong to a separate service. They’re run by the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA), which is part of the Royal Naval Service along with the Navy and Royal Marines but has a unique status.

Its officers belong to the Royal Naval Reserve, but they wear Merchant Navy uniforms and are employed by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) as civil servants. This means that, unlike actual members of the Royal Navy, they’re allowed to strike in some circumstances.

Now RFA officers have voted, by a four-to-one margin, to go on strike over poor pay. The Nautilus International union, which represents professional mariners in the UK, the Netherlands, and Switzerland, says RFA members have suffered a 30% fall in real incomes since 2010 and have rejected a proposed 4.5% pay rise. The union’s director of organizing, Martyn Gray, said RFA members feel “overworked, underpaid and undervalued.”

There are limits on when RFA members can take industrial action. They’re banned from striking when deployed on operations or in a safety-critical role, like fire watch duty. However, they can walk out when their ships are in port or if they’re on routine tasks.

That could be a problem, because right now two ships, RFA Lyme Bay and RFA Argus, are in port in Chennai, India. They’ve just come off operations near Gaza, then carried out exercises with the Indian Navy, but now they’re in port and their crews are allowed to strike. Unfortunately, the ships are carrying a unit of Royal Marine Commandos — and, without their ships, those elite troops would be stuck in India unless the MoD finds another way to bring them home.

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