Airport bosses plan for possible Easter holiday walkout

Back-up plans are in reserve at Sumburgh Airport ahead of possible strike action to help deal with a likely rush of passengers over the busy Easter break.

Management insist there will be no major disruption if the results of a ballot, which closes on Friday, turns out to favour a walk out among security staff.

Airlines will be kept up to date on the dispute, and passengers preparing to depart to sunnier climes for their Spring break will be asked to turn up early for check-in.

The ballot is being held after workers agreed to take a stand against what they see as unfair pay and conditions.
Staff at AMSL, which forms part of the Scottish government-owned Highlands and Islands Airports Limited, are arguing in favour of a 30 per cent deal.

Union leaders have been left angry by what they see as management failure to agree to equal terms and conditions for employers across the group for the fifth successive year.

They claim staff have been burdened with inferior terms for work of equal value, including basic pay, sick pay, shift pay, weekend premium payments, overtime and annual leave allowances.

Seven days notice must be given before any industrial action can take place, should support be given among workers for a walk-out. That means the earliest possible strike date is 3rd April, which could impact on holiday traffic.

Airport manager Nigel Flaws told members of Tuesday’s Sumburgh Airport Consultative Committee he was confident the airport would remain open in the event of a strike. He added that, in the event of industrial action, the issue would be raised with airlines and passengers preparing to depart for their trips away would be asked to arrive at the terminal in plenty of time.

“The vote is due to take place this Friday. We are confident we will be able to offer a service and, if they do strike, we’ll then consider going to the airlines, go to the press and encourage people to turn up early. At the moment we are confident we will be able to remain open.”

Questioned by Rick Nickerson, Mr Flaws said “market forces” meant there were pay variances across HIAL airports. But Sumburgh, he said, was at a higher rate of pay.

Mr Nickerson, meanwhile, said he hoped scheduled services would be given priority over chartered flights, and called for catering arrangements to stand up to a potential two and a half hours of waiting times.

Another potential bugbear is a shortfall in security staff in the first place, as the airport has struggled to recruit against a backdrop of lucrative jobs elsewhere in the isles and low unemployment across Shetland.

Back in September up to nine posts were unfilled, although that figure is now down to seven. The airport has had to rely on detachments from other airports to help ensure there is no security risk.

Staffing issues have also been hindered by bus time-tables, which have caused headaches for some workers as they have struggled to arrive at the airport in time for some shifts.

The issue is to be kept on future ZetTrans agendas to help keep tabs on the problem.

On a more positive note, the committee heard the second phase of the airport revamp is moving apace, with the design for the development due for completion in a couple of weeks. It will offer a second security channel along with a larger departure lounge and improvements to arrivals and the cafe.

Phase one of the improvements, to enhance offshore helicopter facilities, is almost complete. The improvements were announced in December during a visit to the isles by Scotland’s new islands minister, Derek Mackay, who also holds the Holyrood transport brief.


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