Inter-island travel was disrupted on Wednesday as the first of a series of planned ferry mates’ strikes saw ferries tied up from 5.45am for three hours.
The industrial action, which brought morning ferry travel to a halt, involves members of the trade union Unite which is in dispute with the SIC over pay and conditions.
But the mates have decided to stop part of their action as an act of goodwill as it was causing “tremendous” disruption on the Fetlar and Bressay routes.
Unite regional industrial organiser John Taylor said: “What we have agreed today is that the acting up part of the dispute will be temporarily suspended as it was causing tremendous problems for the public which was never meant to be the case.
“As an act of goodwill we have decided to withdraw that part of the dispute till the 10th of February”.
Mr Taylor said that the mates refusing to “act up” as skippers was having a severe effect on Fetlar and would also impact heavily on Bressay. He wanted to make it clear that the halt in action was purely an act of goodwill to the public.
He said that Unite had signed off on arbitration service Acas’s proposals to resolve the dispute. These are now with the SIC which is seeking legal advice. Mr Taylor added that he would make details of the proposals public after they had been considered by the council next month and hoped the dispute would be resolved soon.
Wednesday’s strike will be followed by more action next Wednesday and longer strikes on the subsequent two Wednesdays if the situation is not resolved.
The dispute follows the rejection by Unite members of proposals from the 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.
Infrastructure services director Maggie Sandison last week spoke of her “disappointment” that the strikes were going ahead despite the involvement of conciliation service Acas.
SIC Transport Committee Michael Stout said that he was puzzled and remained disappointed by the union’s position as it had been fully involved in the single status process which was intended to bring uniformity to all council worker gradings.
He added: “They had the opportunity at the time to go through the dispute process – the single collective agreement allowed for that to happen.”
Mr Stout said that because of his background as mate of the Fair Isle ferry, he understood the issues being raised by the mates, but the council really had “nowhere to go” and the mates had effectively been offered the higher grading they were looking for.
North Isles councillor Gary Cleaver said that he did not want to comment on the issue as the dispute was ongoing but added: “The communities affected by it will do their best to accommodate their inconvenience and hopefully it will be resolved soon.”
Normal timetables resumed after the strike around 9am, but bookings for any of the sailings which did not happen were lost and were not carried forward.
Latest information on ferry sailings is available at – www.shetland.gov.uk/ferries/Latestnews.asp