Unite, the UK and Ireland’s largest union, has accused the defence secretary Penny Mordaunt, of putting her political ambitions above that of dealing with the scandal of thousands of workers who maintained Sea King helicopters being exposed to asbestos.

Unite wrote to Ms Mordaunt on 2 May, expressing severe concerns that the MoD had failed to act to ensure the safety and wellbeing of thousands of MoD personnel, contractors and visitors who were potentially exposed to asbestos, during the 50 year operating lifetime of the helicopter.

No response

Over a month after the letter was written, Unite has still received no response from Ms Mordaunt or anyone else at the MoD. The union has today (Wednesday 5 June) written again to Ms Mordaunt seeking answers to their concerns.

The MoD has been forced to admit that 90 separate components on the Sea King contained asbestos and that many of these were not replaced even when they were identified and modifications were made in 2006.

MoD head in sand

The MoD has refused to contact those who have been potentially affected.

The fact that Ms Mordaunt’s has not addressed the failure to contact those potentially affected is especially concerning given how it will affect her own constituents. The Sea King was primarily based on the Solent and many of those affected will live in her Portsmouth North constituency.

Asbestos scandal

Unite national officer for defence workers Jim Kennedy said: “It appears that Penny Mordaunt is focused more on developing her own political career, than dealing with the Sea King asbestos scandal.

“Tens of thousands of workers many from her own constituency may have been given a potential death sentence after unknowingly being exposed to asbestos and the MoD does not even have the good grace to warn them about their exposure.

“If Penny Mordaunt is interested in the health of her constituents and MoD workers, not only does she need to respond to Unite’s concerns but she needs to take action to ensure those affected understand the risks they now face.

“The current approach of trying to wash their hands of this catastrophic failure shames the defence secretary, the MoD and the government.”


Notes to editors:

Unite has called on the MoD to introduce a three point plan:

  • The MoD must introduce systems, as a matter of urgency, to identify all current employees who may have been exposed to asbestos
  • The MoD must offer follow up counselling or access to medical checks for current and former employees
  • The MoD must introduce a system that will notify all former MoD employees of the risk they now face due to previous unknown exposure to asbestos while working on the Sea King. 

For more information please contact Unite communications officer Barckley Sumner on 020 3371 2067 or 07802 329235. Email: barckley.sumner@unitetheunion.org

  • Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest union with members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.