Qinetiq strike action could increase risk to British troops
'Profiteers' v unions. Why not get shot of them all?
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.
Pay freezes aren't much fun. But getting shot or blown up is even nastier.
Unless Qinetiq's former government labs here in the UK can somehow make money out of green tech or exports or something, they will carry on shrinking through selloffs and redundancies until they match the new, much smaller MoD test-and-evaluation budget. The company's centre of gravity will continue to shift across the Atlantic to the US, where it actually makes profits, and no amount of industrial action will slow the process down - indeed, strikes and go-slows will probably speed things up.
So management won't care all that much about the unions' planned industrial action. But some people might: namely, British troops fighting and dying in Afghanistan right now.
Late in 2007, having finally decided to sort out the eight Chinook HC3 helicopters it had ordered from Boeing (and then had specially, uniquely custom-ruined so that they were useless) the MoD gave the job to Qinetiq. Qinetiq workers are even now engaged in turning the HC3s into normal HC2s, at some (further) cost to the British taxpayer.
Desperately needed helicopters equal lives and limbs for our fighting boys and girls right now, it's that simple. Particularly in hot-and-high Afghanistan, where the Chinook is especially popular - it being one of the few military transport choppers with enough grunt to lift much of a load there. Every week those Chinooks aren't fixed is another week of unnecessary risks, of operations that can't be carried out for lack of lift, of vital supplies not delivered or sent by dangerous road convoy.
You could say that Prospect's union members are sacrificing our troops' lives - and our national ability to fight in Afghanistan - to get an inflation-busting pay rise, as no doubt the famous "profiteers" of the Qinetiq management would like to. Or you could say that fatcat bosses, while happily pocketing their own bonuses, are crushing workers' rights with no thought for the needs of troops as the union people might prefer to suggest.
Or you might ask why on Earth we didn't just get Boeing to fix up the helicopters - after all they made them - rather than needlessly involving Qinetiq in the process. Then the profiteers and the unions could settle their squabbles among themselves and nobody else would need to worry.
But some people would no doubt have argued for giving the job to British workers at a British company on the grounds that they would naturally offer better support for British forces. An idea which really does seem to need re-examining. ®