Shetland Islands Council has moved to allay fears of up to 16 job losses among ports and harbours staff at Sella Ness.
The workers’ anxiety comes as the council completes its study aimed at cutting costs and earning more money from the operations it has built up since the 1970s to service the Sullom Voe oil terminal.
The concern over jobs flared up suddenly when workers learned from an internal newsletter that talks on “potential redundancies” were set to take place between their unions and SIC infrastructure executive director Gordon Greenhill.
One worker said they understood 16 job losses were being proposed across the board, including among engineers, tug men, pilot boat and mooring launch crews, to help save £870,000 from the annual budget. He said “quite a lot of upset” had been caused.
Some sea staff members are doubly concerned for their futures because they have been excluded so far from the single status agreement which has brought new pay and conditions to the rest of the SIC workforce as well as wads of back pay.
This week one of the unions, the T&G section of Unite, said the situation had since been defused by the council. Aberdeen-based representative John Taylor said redundancies were not being discussed at this stage.
At the SIC, Mr Greenhill admitted a mistake had been made in sending out the newsletter making mention of “potential redundancies” before he had been able to talk to the workers formally in a meeting. He has since apologised to the unions. “Sometimes these things happen,” he said. “We put our hands up and said it was a mistake.”
Although “nothing hard and fast” in terms of changes to the workforce has come forward yet from the service review he said it was “quite right and proper” to let workers know as early as possible that the council might decide to go down the road of shedding people but he wants to avoid enforced redundancies. The figure of 16 jobs was, he said, “pure speculation”.
The review has been looking at what services the oil companies at Sullom Voe want for the future from the council’s tugs and marine pilots and at what level the council should provide them. Studies have also been done into diversifying into other areas of work to take up the slack from the downturn in tanker visits and using the skilled workforce to do other jobs.
The whole service had not been looked at for many years, Mr Greenhilll said, and required “a redesign”, with the help of the workforce’s ideas, to make it suitable for the next 20 years.
“We’ve not come to any conclusions yet about the final outcome. What’s been shown initially is that there may be a need to reduce the number of staff but the word redundancy is very premature. We’re looking at various early retirements, not filling posts when people go.”
If some staff do leave with exit packages he said they might even be replaced by a stream of young trainees to provide the workforce of the future for harbour operations.
For full story, see this week’s Shetland Times.