By RYAN TAYLOR
RESIDENTS and businesses in Shetland will find themselves stranded next week when a planned 24-hour strike brings inter-island ferries to a halt.
Council workers will take industrial action on Wednesday in protest over a below inflation 2.5 per cent pay increase for three years.
Union leaders say the deal comes as an insult to workers faced with rising fuel costs and spiralling mortgage payments.
The ferries will run for emergency vehicles, but otherwise all ferry services will be affected for the full 24 hours leaving many people in the islands with nowhere to go.
The only exception is in Papa Stour, where union members have agreed to transport visiting dignitaries from Norway to and from the isle.
Haulage firm R.S. Henderson in Yell will lose a day’s business when the ferries come to a halt.
Managing director Steven Henderson said he had little sympathy for the workers leaving islanders stranded.
“One of the biggest things affecting us will be the loss of the ferries,” he said.
“We will probably have to stop trading for 24 hours because there will be no ferries for my trucks to go on.
“I’ll be paying the men to do nothing, and I don’t think stopping essential lifeline services will be doing council employees much good.
“They’re going to get no sympathy from me or my customers.”
Mr Henderson said his fleet of five vehicles needed to turn over in excess of £370 a day to cover running costs.
The strike will mean his firm losing almost £2,000 on the day, before wages are taken into account.
“I will be trying to get trucks and men in the right place the night before the strike, but it’s not looking good.
“We normally export fish from the fishing boats at Cullivoe pier down to the Lerwick fishmarket, but we won’t be able to do that.”
Mr Henderson called on the ferry men to offer a reduced service to give islanders at least some access to the mainland.
“They’re not needing to tie up the boats full stop, and it’s certainly going to lower my opinion of the council.
“We have a great working relationship with the ferry men, and they do their best for us every day of the week.
“It’s the fact they are taking their problems out on Joe Public rather than their employer that is the problem.
“The council is not going to lose out on Wednesday because they will save on fuel.”
Schools are also expected to close when the strike goes ahead.
Although teachers are not involved in the industrial action, staff such as janitors and other workers involved with the daily running of schools will be out on strike.
The council says each school will make its own decision on whether to open or not on Monday morning.
The information will be put out through the media and on the council’s website on Monday and Tuesday.
At this stage it is not clear if the Janet Courtney Hostel in Lerwick will be open.
But Shetland representative of the public services union Unison, Brian Smith, said he thought the wider public would get behind striking workers and offer them their support.
“I heard one anonymous comment on Radio Shetland saying everyone should be sacked and strikes didn’t solve anything, but sacking everybody would,” Mr Smith said.
“Other than that I’ve not heard one adverse comment. Folk understand what the situation is. “The fact so many people are employed by the council mean people know what the situation is, and why it is necessary.
“None of us want to go on strike, it’s just striking is the only thing workers can do to get employers to know how bad things are.”
Mr Smith added he had taken part in “several strikes” since the late eighties, and on each occasion the action taken was sufficient to get the employers to move.
“It’s the last resort the workforce has up its sleeve,” he said.
“We appreciate the community is going to suffer, but most of them will be council workers themselves or related to other council workers, so they will know how bad the situation is.”
The strike has provoked a mixed reaction among councillors for island communities.
Lerwick South member Jonathan Wills, who serves the interests of Bressay, agreed with Mr Henderson’s views that the council action was hitting the wrong people.
“I’ve every sympathy with the council employees, but they are tackling the wrong target because the council is powerless to increase the national offer, so I don’t know why they are doing this,” Dr Wills said.
“Most councillors would sympathise with the workers but the government hasn’t made the money available.
“It’s very difficult for folk in Bressay. A lot of people will have to stay in Lerwick for the night or lose money.
“Perhaps to increase workers wages we could make cuts and fire some people to pay those who are left a little more money, but we don’t want to do that.
“Mr Smith should be directing his attack on the government and not on Shetland Islands Council.”
North Isles councillor Laura Baisley said people were used to disruption, and could prove “resilient” when they needed to.
“My gut reaction is we’ve been given plenty of notice, and most islanders are fairly resilient about these kind of things, so I don’t think it will cause too much trouble,” she said.
“I’m neutral about whether I’m sympathetic to the cause or not, but I think people have to demonstrate their feelings as best they can.
“It’s unfortunate for people that have to go to work on the mainland, but we do sometimes have to put up with the loss of ferries because of weather.”
Shetland South member Allison Duncan said council workers could stand to benefit from any future agreement over single status.
“I’m disappointed it has come to this stage. I’d like to see what came out of the talks before they went down this road,” Mr Duncan said.
“If there’s a problem with anybody in Fair Isle that comes to my attention I will bring it up.”
SIC chief executive Morgan Goodlad said he saw little chance of an 11th hour agreement putting an end to industrial action.
“I can’t see there being any chance of a last minute reprieve at all,” he said.
NOT all council services will be disrupted by the strike. The unions have granted some services an exemption from the action. These include:
- Essential staff in residential and home care;
- Emergency cover for health and safety, roads, ferries, ports and harbours, housing and social work;
- Essential residential services for adults and children with special needs.
Care centres will operate as normal, as will the Leog children’s home, but the day care at the Eric Gray Centre, day and evening care at Newcraigielea and the skills centre at Annsbrae will be closed by the strike.
Buses will operate as normal but inter-island air services may have some timetable changes.
The public library in Lerwick will be closed, as will the Islesburgh Community Centre, although the youth hostel will remain open.
Shetland College and Train Shetland will be unaffected by the strike, but the Town Hall will be closed.
Public toilets could remain closed, and refuse collection is unlikely to take place.