ISLANDERS are set to face travel disruption this summer, with Sumburgh Airport to be closed to all scheduled flights on Monday as part of the first of two days of strike action planned by trade union Unite over pay.
The union initially suspended a day of industrial action over pay on June 9th to engage in talks with Highlands and Islands Airports Limited (HIAL), but those talks have now broken down and the strike is expected to go ahead on Monday.
Unite represents fire fighter, leading fire fighter and engineer grades within HIAL and the unavailability of those staff means nine of its airports, including Sumburgh, are expected to be closed. Unite has agreed that its members will provide cover for air ambulance and search and rescue flights during the action.
Sumburgh Airport manager Nigel Flaws said 18 fire fighters and lead fire fighters were expected to be involved in the strike but he understood engineers at the airport were not part of the union.
Mr Flaws said: “Effectively the airport will be closed on those days. It will certainly cause significant disruption to anyone that’s planning to travel. It’s extremely disappointing but as it stands, that’s what the position is.”
HIAL said it was disappointed that the union had declined to take a joint approach to the issue of pay and claimed it had moved to strike action when there were still avenues to be explored.
A spokesman for HIAL said: “We are very disappointed that we now face strikes closing airports and that the opportunity to potentially achieve better pay settlements for all employees is being missed. The strike action is not going to get the company a better pay deal but working together could have.
“If Unite does not change its mind regarding joint working with the company on the issue of pay we expect nine of our airports will be closed on Monday. This is clearly very disappointing as closures will affect many people’s travel plans next week. Regrettably, unless the union is prepared to suspend the action and work with us there is nothing more that we can do to avoid this happening.”
A second strike day is also planned for Friday 4th July, the first day of the summer school holidays, and will affect nine HIAL airports, at Barra, Benbecula, Campbeltown, Islay, Kirkwall, Stornoway, Sumburgh, Tiree and Wick, though staff at Inverness Airport are not taking part in the action.