Ferry mates look set to resume industrial action next week with the first of four planned strikes to take place from 5.45am to 8.45am on Wednesday, 21st January.
That will be followed by a strike of the same duration the following week before lengthier strikes from 5.45am to 11.45am the following two Wednesdays (4th and 11th February).
Additionally, ferry mates are to cease “acting up” as masters on Tuesday, the day before the strike, which could lead to short-term disruption that will give the council little time to forewarn passengers.
The move follows the rejection by ferry crew union Unite of proposals from Shetland Islands Council that would see mates who act up re-graded to take account of their higher duties. At present, the qualified mates are only paid as masters for the time that they are acting as ferry skippers.
It is not clear if all of the ferry mates will take part in the action – only 14 of the mates are union members – but infrastructure services director Maggie Sandison said that it was expected all the mates would take part.
She said that she was “very disappointed” that the union had not delayed action until a proposal being drawn up by the arbitration service Acas was tabled and considered by the council. The SIC will endeavour to give passengers as much notice as possible of disruption through their website and the media.
She said that no part of the council’s workforce had been the focus of so much effort to achieve satisfactory re-grading as the ferry mates – within the terms of the single-status agreement which had been agreed nationally through the convention of local authorities Cosla and with the full participation of the Unite union.
Transport committee chairman Michael Stout said that every effort had been taken to achieve a fair and workable deal with the union and that hundreds of commuters would be affected by the strike. It also had implications for social care, schools and other council services in the isles.
Mr Stout said: “We had hoped that the council’s positive offer would have been acceptable to Unite. The council had offered a redesigned post that recognised their ability to act as master and paid them at the grade they wanted.
“Councillors will hear the union’s proposals later this month. It is particularly disappointing that Unite are not willing to suspend their industrial action until the proposal has been considered. In the meantime I’d ask ferry users to bear with us as we try to minimise the inevitable impact of their industrial action.”