Shipbuilding union GMB has criticised the UK Government’s decision to offer the contract for the construction of three Military Afloat Reach and Sustainability (MARS) vessels to foreign firms.

MARS vessels will be operated by the UK Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA).

The union said that all Royal Navy and RFA ships must be constructed in UK yards.

According to GMB, the decision to contract the foreign shipbuilders for the development of the 40,000t RFA vessels ‘undermines the national interest’.

In addition, the union is calling for cross-parliamentary support of MPs, along with the shipbuilding employers to collaborate with workers and their communities to protest against the government’s decision.

However, UK Defence Minister Harrier Baldwin said that the construction of the RFA ships ‘should be subject to open competition’.

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GMB National Secretary Jude Brimble said: “The RFA contracts are the key to unlocking the country’s massive shipbuilding potential and transforming the fortunes of our shipbuilding communities.

“Instead of undermining the national interest, the government should be defending our vital shipbuilding industry.”

“But ministers’ refusal to put the UK’s interests first will mean that instead of a massive programme of shared economic and employment re-distribution, our shipbuilding firms will be competing against each other for slivers of complex warship work.

Brimble further said that the RFA vessels will help support and serve the UK Navy and their construction in the country’s shipyards would generate hundreds of millions of pounds worth of wages for the national economy.

Brimble added: “Instead of undermining the national interest, the government should be defending our vital shipbuilding industry.”

In February 2012, South Korea-based Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering (DSME) was selected as the preferred bidder for the development of the Royal Navy’s MARS tankers.

As part of the £452m contract, DSME and its partner companies were responsible for providing the specialised design and build for the new RFA logistic support vessels.

The tankers are constructed in South Korea and outfitted in the UK.