Peace breaks out as tugmen accept cost-cutting deal

Sullom Voe tug crews have voted to accept a cost-cutting deal with Shetland Islands Council which will see 12 of the 48-strong workforce take voluntary redundancy or early retirement.

The agreement was sanctioned at a mass meeting of the tugmen at Sella Ness this morning and is expected to save the council around £750,000 a year.

The breakthrough follows the intervention of council chief executive Alistair Buchan and new infrastructure director Phil Crossland after previous negotiations failed amid claims that the local authority had refused to listen to the crews.

The council then moved to impose changes, prompting the tugmen to vote for strike action which could have brought Sullom Voe Terminal to a halt. At that time the council was seeking 16 job cuts and a new shift system which would have involved the men spending long periods on call.

Confirming the new deal, the union representative from Unite, John Halcrow, said the new system was based on “common sense ways of doing things” that the tug crews had suggested some time ago to ensure safe operations as tanker traffic dwindled. He said: “All credit should be given to the new faces who came in. We’re very thankful that they applied some common sense.”

The deal means the tug workforce will be cut to 36, down from its peak of 97 during the 1980s heyday of Sullom Voe when the company was called Shetland Towage and owned by Shetland Charitable Trust.

The men will continue to operate a three-shift system with an extra crew available on standby to come in to man the fourth tug, which is required for berthing large tankers.

Mr Halcrow said the acceptance of the need for cuts showed the union was acting responsibly. “It’s not that the union has been in any way a dinosaur or a cloth-cap union,” he said.

The cuts are part of the Ports for the Future shake-up of marine operations at the council-owned oil port which has already seen deals struck with the marine pilots and pilot launch crews.

With the industrial battle now over the tug workforce hopes it and the council can put their collective shoulder to the wheel to improve the future prospects of the port and the oil terminal.


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