Inter-island ferry users look set to face travel disruption with ferry workers due to start industrial action on Friday.
Following a ballot on industrial action, 12 ferry mates, who are members of the Unite union, have decided to refuse to act up as Masters and may not work overtime to cover annual sick leave.
They will also strike each Wednesday morning from 6am to 9am from 17th December to 4th March 2015.
The council said the industrial action, in particular the weekly strike, is likely to have a significant impact on local ferry services, especially as it falls on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.
The SIC said it had worked hard over the past six years to address concerns raised by this staff group.
“However, the council has a legal duty to pay equal pay for equal work under the Single Status Collective Agreement, and cannot break that agreement by regrading individual staff groups on demand.
“The council requested that Unite attend mediation with the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) and the union has now agreed to that; however, this will not happen before the industrial action begins.”
Chairman of the SIC’s environment and transport committe, Michael Stout, said: “It is extremely disappointing that we find ourselves in this position, as we have done everything we possibly can to resolve the situation.
“I appreciate that mates on our ferries feel that they were treated unfairly under the Single Status Collective Agreement by not receiving a pay rise. Very early on it was mooted that mates could be regraded at a higher rate, but that wasn’t the eventual outcome, and that was upheld at appeal and at a later re-evaluation.
“It is clear that these employees receive the correct level of pay for the work they do.
“We have done everything we can to recognise the goodwill shown by mates who are called upon to act up as masters, and indeed pay them accordingly, but we simply cannot make an increased pay award to a single group of staff.
“I very much regret that Unite, who signed up to the Collective Agreement, have continued to dispute the application of the Single Status Collective Agreement for these 12 mates when it has been applied in the same way to other council staff.”
Unite’s regional organiser, John Taylor, said they had been negotiating for nearly two years to try to resolve the situation.
The goodwill from the mates, which allowed the council to run the ferry services, had disappeared, he said.
“They are so short on staff they can’t run a service unless mates act up as skippers. “We have intimated to the council that we would be prepared to go to ACAS, but they would have to bring something new to the table and we would be surprised if they could bring something new when they couldn’t bring it for the last two years.”