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Qinetiq strike action could increase risk to British troops

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Analysis British staff at Qinetiq, the company formed from an uneasy mixture of privatised UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) research facilities and profitable US war-tech companies, have voted to strike in protest at pay freezes and redundancies.

Prospect, which represents some 2,000 of Qinetiq's UK staff - whom it describes as "specialists" - says that a strike ballot gave a result of 72 per cent in favour of strike action after management announced a pay freeze for 2009. The union had already said its members were "outraged" after 400 British job losses were announced last month.

Now, according to union bosses, British Qinetiq staff may refuse to work overtime and may also "withdraw goodwill".

“We will finalise our plan of action following a meeting of all QinetiQ unions on June 8," says Prospect chief David Luxton. "Our overriding focus will be to persuade the company that there needs to be a genuine dialogue on the way forward if we are to avoid disruption to the work of the company in the coming months."

Qinetiq's management are unlikely to be overly concerned about industrial action in the UK part of the business, which has consistently lost money since the company was created. As UK National Audit Office analysis has made clear, it is profits from American companies purchased with private-equity cash during Qinetiq's formation which support the 7,000 former MoD employees in Britain.

The ex-civil-servants were privatised because UK defence research spending has fallen massively since the early 1990s, meaning that the MoD could no longer afford its sprawling Defence Evaluation and Research Agency (DERA).

Possibly Prospect's former-DERA members here in the UK can diversify into non-defence work, or win overseas orders. This is the Qinetiq management's stated plan for them. But if they can't, a lot of the Brits at Qinetiq are dreaming if they think they'll be kept on for long. Their numbers are being steadily whittled down already, with at least a tenth of the UK workforce let go in just the last couple of years and the underwater-systems business in Dorset sold off - with another 220 people - just last month.

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