Ferry strikes continue, but union speaks of fresh hope

Fresh hope has emerged that a resolution could be found to the industrial dispute between ferry mates in the Unite trade union and the SIC, according to a senior union official.

The development comes ahead of the latest round of strikes tomorrow – which for the first time will last six hours – in the row over pay grades for mates who act up as masters.

Late this afternoon Unite union official John Taylor said a statement had been released to members. Although he would not reveal its contents, it could mean that the situation is moving towards resolution.

He said that independent conciliation service Acas had formed the opinion the job evaluation of mates’ jobs should have been done differently.

The people doing the evaluation had looked at the environment the mates work in, which is partly on deck and partly in the wheelhouse. They deemed the wheelhouse to be “office” work and graded it accordingly.

John Taylor of Unite
John Taylor of the trade union Unite.

But, Mr Taylor said, the wheelhouse is still at sea and Acas has apparently accepted this.

He said: “The people doing the job evaluation looked at it as an office, but you could be in the wheelhouse in a force 10 wind. It is believed they [the job evaluators] made a mistake and it would appear Acas supports that view.”

SIC councillors will next week consider proposals from Acas as a possible solution to the ongoing dispute.

Ferry mates who are Unite members have been taking industrial action on council ferries for the last two weeks in a grievance over their pay grades. Tomorrow morning ferry services will see the first of the full six-hour strikes when almost two-thirds of the council’s ferry mates will stop work. In previous weeks work has resumed around 9am.

Last month, representatives of trade union Unite and SIC met at Acas to discuss the dispute. The meeting ended without resolution and it was agreed that Acas would present a paper detailing Unite’s position to councillors.

The outcome sought by Unite is to re-grade ferry mates using an additional weighting to account for their “outdoor exposure” in a marine environment.

The mates’ posts had previously been assessed and reviewed independently, under the national Job Evaluation Scheme, agreed by the Scottish Joint Council (SJC), comprising representatives of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla) and three trade unions: Unite, Unison and the GMB.

Cosla have now commented on the possibility of local changes to a national job evaluation scheme and the difficulties that this would present. Councillors will hear detail of this in private at next week’s SIC policy and resources committee in a report from director of infrastructure services, Maggie Sandison, that will also include the Acas proposals from Unite.

Chairman of the SIC’s environment and transport committee Michael Stout said: “I find it difficult to see how the local branch of Unite can raise this industrial action and have issues with the Job Evaluation Scheme, when nationally, Unite have been central to its formation. I’m also disappointed that ferry mates are taking this action again to disrupt our lifeline inter-island ferries, before the council has had a chance to consider the report and options before us.

“We have already offered to recognise the ability of mates to act as master when necessary and to therefore pay them at the higher grade.

“During this extended period of disruption we will do our best to minimise the impact for ferry users.”

Tomorrow’s strikes will start at 5.45am and will affect the North Isles, Whalsay and Skerries.

The first ferry for Bluemull Sound will leave Gutcher at 12.05pm, the first one across Yell Sound will leave Ulsta at 12.15pm, the first Whalsay ferry will leave Symbister at noon and the Skerries sailing from Symbister at 12.15pm will go direct to Lerwick. Bressay and Papa Stour services are not affected.


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