Coastguard workers have come out in support of Wednesday’s public sector strike over pensions, but have vowed they will ensure the seas around Shetland and Orkney remain covered.
In support of their union colleagues – who are protesting over UK government changes to public sector pensions – they will instead be “taking action short of a strike” beginning at 8pm on Tuesday and finishing 24 hours later.
A Shetland Coastguard spokesman said that as an emergency service “at the heart of the Orkney and Shetland community”, staff members felt they could not leave the seas, coasts and islands without sufficient cover: “During this period we will only provide distress and safety cover to vessels and persons at sea or on the coast, all other routine duties will be suspended.”
The coastguard station was only recently saved from the threat of closure following a massive community-backed campaign. But despite the success of that campaign, workers at the Knab station feel that “our jobs, terms and conditions are not safe as public services are being slashed”.
Large-scale industrial action is expected to cause a shutdown of inter-island ferry services, the desertion of most school classrooms and the closure of harbours at Sullom Voe and Scalloway on Wednesday.
Many hundreds of public sector workers are expected to participate in the strike, with unions saying the proposed changes amount to a raid on their members’ pension pots to plug the UK’s financial deficit. Measures on the table include raising the state pension age from 65 to 68.
Northern Isles MP Alistair Carmichael, a party whip in the Westminster coalition, has said pension reform is “unavoidable”. Last week he said the fact people were living longer after retirement made pension reform inevitable and stressed his belief that the government had made “significant and substantial concessions” to the trade unions.
But in a strongly-worded statement, coastguard workers hit out at the “Con-Dem coalition government’s cuts agenda”, which it said was badly damaging the services everyone in society relied upon.
“Their policies are designed to cut hundreds of thousands of public sector jobs, cut services, attack public sector workers’ pensions, and freeze public sector pay for two years,” the statement continued.
“Everything we have worked for is under threat: our pay is frozen while inflation soars, we are being told to pay higher contributions for a smaller pension and to work longer, and this government has ripped up civil service redundancy terms.
“PCS members are taking strike action to demonstrate their opposition to these attacks and to show support for the union’s attempts to reach a negotiated settlement, in particular: no detrimental changes to pensions and the civil service compensation scheme, an end to the pay freeze and fair pay for all.”