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The officers of the UK’s Royal Fleet Auxiliary, the civilian support service for the Royal Navy, will start a work slowdown according to their union Nautilus International. It is the latest step in a long-running dispute over wages but will stop short of a full-on strike. 

Hundreds of Nautilus members working onboard RFA vessels, which include the Royal Navy’s fleet of tankers and supply ships, starting June 1 will only undertake work responsibilities commensurate with their job title according to Nautilus. They are emphasizing that this is an “action short of a strike,” where the members will “not provide cover or act in a capacity above or below their job title.”

Nautilus acknowledges the vital contribution and role in the national defense of the RFA. As such, they are emphasizing that members will continue to work in full compliance with all safety guidelines and policies, ensuring the safety of people, the safety of the vessel, and the safety of the environment at all times. 

“However, after 14 years of pay austerity – representing more than a 30 percent real-terms cut in wages – and a resulting recruitment and retention crisis, they have finally had enough and have made the momentous decision to undertake industrial action for the first time in RFA history,” says Nautilus executive director Martyn Gray.

Nautilus has been threatening some form of job action for months reporting in November 2023 that it was planning to conduct a ballot among members for an industrial action. They are now saying that an overwhelming 85 percent voted “yes to action short of a strike,” while 79 percent also voted to support a full-on strike.

“It is now up to the UK government to put forward a serious offer, one that reflects their hard work and the essential role that they play in defense of this country, so that this dispute can be ended with a fair settlement for RFA personnel.,” said Gray.

Nautilus International says it has conducted a series of meetings with RFA, Royal Navy, and Ministry of Defence representatives, each trying to try to resolve the pay dispute. They contend that the organization has received no offer that members are “able to accept,” reporting in September 2023 membership voted to reject a 4.5 percent raise offer. With no further movement, Nautilus says the situation has now been escalated further.

The RMT (National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers) represents other portions of the RFA workforce and it too is locked in prolonged negotiations with the UK government primarily over wages. The RFA offered the same 4.5 percent wage increase to RMT members and the union responded by announcing in October it planned to conduct its strike vote.

Both unions emphasize that it has never come to a strike in the past and hope it will not this time. However, they contend it was a close call in 2019 when the RFA offered just a 1.5 percent increase.

They contend that RFA members have consistently seen their pay fall below other services, such as the armed forces, police, fire, and ambulanc