Coastguards work on as strike continues
By RYAN TAYLOR
SHETLAND’S coastguard workers will continue to work through a 48-hour strike scheduled to take place this weekend.
Members of the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) will hold their two day strike from today in protest over pay and conditions.
But while local coastguard workers support the call being made by union members for a better pay deal, they consider Shetland too isolated to be left without emergency cover.
They have, however, been adhering to an extended period of work to rule over the last couple of weeks.
Elsewhere the latest bout of industrial action will start at the beginning of tonight’s night shift, and will run through until Sunday evening at the end of the day shift.
An MCA spokesman said: “There’s been an ongoing industrial dispute and it has increased in intensity over the last few months.”
The action is just the latest in a line of strikes staged by unionised coastguard workers, who say they have been betrayed by a below-inflation pay offer that falls well short of what other emergency service workers are paid.
But while all three of this year’s strikes have lasted for 24 hours, this week’s two day stoppage represents a tightening of the screws on the government.
The Maritime and Coastguard agency (MCA) has advised anyone going to sea to take extra care, but Shetland MP Alistair Carmichael says it is only a matter of time before a tragedy happens at sea.
On Wednesday he challenged the Prime Minister to personally intervene in the action to give coastguards a “decent” wage.
“The concern is that when there were 24 hour strikes the contingency arrangements in place were stretched almost to breaking point,” said Mr Carmichael.
“A 48 hour strike, I do believe, based on the views given to me by senior coastguard officials who know what they are talking about, mean contingency arrangements will be insufficient to cover all the bases.
“It is eminently possible that lives are going to be put at risk.”
In response, Mr Brown said he would “look at” the issue of contingency cover, and called on those planning to strike to reconsider their actions.
Speaking after Prime Minister’s questions, Mr Carmichael said he welcomed the Prime Minister’s moves to examine contingency plans, but said he was “disturbed” by his lack of understanding over the dispute.
“If he is serious about this then he should put the contingency arrangements of the MCA up for independent verification,” he said.
Although the action is being taken by those responsible for co-ordinating rescues, the rescuers themselves will be working as normal.
That means rescue helicopters will continue to fly, and the RNLI will still send out lifeboats if and when required.
Volunteer coastguard officers will still be on hand, and emergency tugs and pollution control experts will respond to any shipping incidents that pose a threat to the environment.
For those who are going to sea, the MCA has released a series of guidelines to adhere to.
MCA chief executive Peter Cardy said: “We have drawn up detailed contingency plans for the weekend and although our services will be more limited than normal, distress calls will be answered as normal.
“We are also asking sea users to not only watch out for themselves, but for others too as they would normally.
“The message is still the same – if you see something you believe is dangerous or putting people’s lives at risk, don’t delay.
“Use the distress VHF Channel 16, or if near a shoreline, dial 999 and ask for the coastguard making sure you know your own position.”