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Union threatens to bring Lerwick harbour ‘to a standstill’

Strike action at Lerwick Harbour could start on 20 June.
Strike action at Lerwick Harbour could start on 20 June.

Labour body Unite is threatening to bring Shetland’s Lerwick harbour “to a standstill” after talks concerning pay, terms and conditions broke down.

Unite is demanding its members are paid the same rate as that at other UK ports and that unless a raft of grievances surrounding changes to basic pay, overtime pension contributions are settled, they will walk out at one minute past midnight on June 20.

Breakdown in negotiations

The move follows a breakdown in talks between Unite and the Lerwick Port Authority with around a dozen workers due to down tools at Shetland’s main harbour and marks an escalation from the current overtime ban.

Any such action would impact cruise liners, oil and gas vessels as well as general shipping maintains Unite.

Boats at Lerwick Harbour
Lerwick Harbour.

“Unite will not allow Lerwick Port Authority to treat these workers as a second-class workforce, paying them less than port workers around the UK,” said Unite general-secretary Sharon Graham.

“The authority can afford to pay decent rates for the job. We won’t tolerate any further attacks on our members’ pay and conditions. Our members have their union’s full support in this fight to be paid the rate for the job.”

The union says despite the “prosperity and expansion” of the port, skilled and semi-skilled employees have been paid considerably less than nationally agreed rates.

‘Angry and frustated’

Unite is demanding the port workers be brought into line with industry standards set by the National Agreement for the Engineering Construction Industry and Scottish Joint Industry Board.

“Our members are rightly angry and frustrated at the glacial pace of talks with the company,” added Unite industrial officer John Clark.

“For the first time in many years, they have decided to take all-out strike action along with the ongoing overtime ban which will bring the port to a standstill.

“There are active discussions with Lerwick port but so far nothing meaningful has emerged from this. We hope the imminent strike action will concentrate the minds of management and they will finally give our members what they deserve.”

Turnover at Lerwick Port Authority was £9.5 million in 2020, according to Unite.

Lerwick received the 2021 port of the year award and recently benefited from a £30m upgrade scheme.

Lerwick Port Authority was not immediately available for comment.

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