Sullom Voe pilots accuse council of seeking temporary cover

The council has been accused of making inquiries about temporary marine pilots to make up for any shortfall in numbers should its own crews take industrial action over the authority’s unpopular “Ports for the Future” reforms. The suggestion was denied yesterday by the authority.

According to pilots at Sullom Voe the SIC has checked availability of staff from a maritime recruitment agency regarding temporary pilot jobs in the isles.

They claim employing agency staff fails to comply with the Pilotage Act 1987, which requires the harbour authority to employ an authorised pilot directly under a contract of employment, unless the majority of pilots agree otherwise.

One pilot said: “Sullom Voe’s safety management system prescribes a rigorous training regime based on tripping with experienced pilots, as well as simulator and other training.

“This normally takes up to six months and would apply even to a pilot with experience from another port to ensure ‘essential’ local knowledge and experience.”

The union member said breaking a strike was “hardly the action of a responsible employer”.

The council’s harbour board chairman, Alastair Cooper, refused to comment when contacted by The Shetland Times.

But head of infrastructure Gordon Greenhill insisted there was “no truth” that the council was seeking to appoint temporary pilots.

“I don’t conduct negotiations and discussions on the future of my staff in public – that is done in a private forum and in a proper manner,” he said.

The row comes after the council issued its ultimatum to marine pilots to sign up to unpopular new work contracts within 90 days or lose their jobs.

The move, highlighted by The Shetland Times in December, is being made as part of the SIC’s attempts to reduce the cost of its operations at Sella Ness.

Letters informing pilots of the development were sent out on 5th January. Staff have been given until Monday to indicate if they intend to accept the new deal.

It’s thought the move could spark industrial action at Sella Ness, although one member of staff told The Shetland Times there were no immediate plans for a walkout.

The plans have sparked anger and disappointment among pilots and crews, some of whom have served the council for the last 30 years.

Discussions involving staff have been taking place for a considerable period of time.

However they remain unhappy over the proposals to change working arrangements and raise the retirement age from 60 to 65.

Pilot staff are resisting changes to their working patterns which will bring an end the practice of staff being paid for long shifts including sleeping time.

Talks between the council and pilots union Nautilus are continuing throughout the 90-day notice period.

The quest for slimmed down ports operations comes as tanker traffic at Sullom Voe declines.

Twenty-four pilots worked at the port during its heyday. Now there are only 10, and that figure will whittle down to six if four planned redundancies go ahead.

A spokesman for Nautilus said: “This is an issue that has been going on for an extremely long time. Clearly the proposals are of considerable concern, which is why an agreement so far has eluded both sides.

“The course of action to seek to impose terms and conditions take it to a different level and raises significant concerns. We are trying to keep lines of discussion open to ensure we can reach a negotiated settlement.”


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