Eleven jobs have been cut among marine pilots and launch crews at Sullom Voe as part of the council’s efforts to drive down costs at the port. The reduced workforce starts a new 12-hour shift pattern from Friday, abolishing the expensive practice of crews being on full pay for sleeping at work while on 24-hour shifts.
The changes at Sella Ness see four of the 10 pilots leaving along with six of the launch crewmen and the scrapping of one vacant job. None of the losses was compulsory with most of the men able to take early retirement.
The so-called modernisation deal for launch crews was signed in Lerwick this morning by the council and trade union Unite, marking the end of negotiations lasting about a year and a quarter which have brought the launch men within the local authority’s single status agreement.
The council claims the changes agreed under Ports for The Future initiative since it started in July 2009 have yielded savings of around £875,000 a year so far by trimming the 146-strong workforce at Sella Ness and revising pay and conditions.
In its boom days during the 1980s the council employed 24 pilots to handle around 800 tankers a year. A quarter of that complement remains to handle around 150 tankers a year.
Although the six remaining pilots have not yet signed a single status deal, two have agreed conditions while discussions with the other four will go on until a solution is reached. The 90 days’ notice letters issued to them in January no longer apply.
The ceremony at the Solar Hus was held immediately prior to talks between the council and the tug crews who are now the only sea workers operating to old agreements. They currently number 48.
With two new tugs having just joined the fleet the council is allowing until the end of September to assess how it might reduce the number of tugs from four to three and cut crewing numbers to as little as four on each vessel, rather than pushing ahead immediately with reductions.
Under this week’s agreement the remaining pilot boat crewmen will work five shifts of three men. They will not suffer pay cuts for at least three years and will keep their salaries if they improve their skills.
Skipper James Williamson, who is a union steward, said change was coming and the crews just had to adapt while making every effort to avoid compulsory redundancies.
No longer being on-site 24 hours would mean more travel for the men when they were called out at night-time. He said: “We just have to go with it and see how it progresses.”
The signing was done by convener Sandy Cluness and council infrastructure services executive director Gordon Greenhill along with Unite representative John Taylor from Aberdeen.
Mr Taylor said the negotiations had been long and sometimes hard but the agreement was one his members could work to.
Mr Greenhill said it was never the intention to force anyone out and the council was grateful for the flexibility and the common sense approach taken by the workers. He said the harbour operations at Sullom Voe had to be run more efficiently and at reduced cost while also applying single status terms and conditions to all employees.
“The negotiations have taken some time to conclude, but I think that today’s signing is an important step towards achieving the aims we were set by the council. The savings we’ve delivered so far are very significant for the council and the wider Shetland community.”