Union criticised but ferry strike will go ahead

Inter-island ferry passengers face another morning of disruption on Wednesday despite hopes that industrial action had been suspended ahead of the trial of a pilot scheme.

And trade union Unite has been told by Shetland Islands Council political leader Gary Robinson that it needs to “get its act together” following confusion over whether or not the strike would go ahead.

At lunch time today the council held a press briefing announcing that this week’s strike had been called off with scheduled talks due to take place on Tuesday 17th February.

But this afternoon a further statement was released from the SIC saying it had been informed by the Unite union, which represents the ferry mates who are in dispute over their pay grades, that the strike was going ahead. It will be the fourth week of disruption.

In the latest statement the council said it had initially been informed by Cosla (Convention of Scottish Local Authorities) that the union would not undertake industrial action or stoppages till after a Tuesday’s meeting.

SIC political leader Gary Robinson said he had been shocked to hear the planned six-hour strike on Wednesday would be going ahead.

He said: “Unite really needs to get its act together. We were told by the most senior Unite official in Scotland Willie McGonigle that the strikes were off.

“It’s most bizarre and not helpful to service users, the council or Unite’s members. The union needs to speak with one clear voice because we’re getting mixed messages.”

Infrastructure services director, Maggie Sandison, said: “Our understanding from Cosla was that the union had confirmed it would lift the threat of industrial action till after next week’s meeting; however, that does not appear to be the case.

“I’m disappointed that the action will be proceeding when there are talks scheduled for next week.”

The dramatic turnaround comes after the council’s policy and resources committee discussed the ongoing industrial action in private. It was thought the strike has been suspended ahead of the introduction of the trial of a pilot scheme which includes a revised job evaluation.

The policy and resources committee today rejected a proposal from Unite, as presented by independent conciliation service Acas. Councillors agreed that they could not make local changes to the national job evaluation scheme in response to the mates’ grievance.

Local government organisation Cosla (Convention of Scottish Local Authorities) has reinforced the position that this is a matter for national agreement.

Ferry mates argue their pay grades have not been assessed correctly.

The grades had been assessed nationally and local change was not possible, the SIC insisted today.

Next Tuesday Unite union representatives will meet SIC officials in Edinburgh at a meeting hosted by Cosla.

According to Mrs Sandison, Cosla has put “robust pressure” on Unite to cease industrial action ahead of the pilot, which will trial nationally revised job evaluation proposals.

Mrs Sandison said Unite had been aware of the upcoming pilot scheme before Christmas. She said there had been “strong advice” from Cosla that the council could not change the nationally-agreed job evaluation scheme, and Cosla has said it was “inappropriate to imply change could be made at local level”.

Mr Robinson said he “firmly believed” the job evaluation had been right, and Unite had not been as aware at local level as it should have been.

He said: “The grievance by mates is really misdirected at the council. We have agreed today that we can’t change the national scheme to suit a local issue.

“Unite have been part of the national working group, the Scottish Joint Council, which worked up the detail of the job evaluation scheme at length, along with Cosla.

“We await the outcome of the discussions hosted by Cosla on Tuesday.”


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