The beacons and buoys at sea could go out if lighthouse workers vote for strike action in a dispute over pay, a union has warned.
Unite members employed by the Northern Lighthouse Board (NLB), who maintain and operate Scotland’s lighthouses, beacons and buoys at sea, are being balloted on strike action in what the union said is a historic first.
The union said the NLB has offered 2% following a pay freeze last year which the union branded “insulting”, describing it as a substantial real-terms pay cut over two years.
Around 30 Unite members, including able seamen, base assistants, cooks and technicians, will take part in the ballot, which opens on Tuesday March 28 and closes on Monday April 24.
“Unite’s members at the NLB provide vital, and at times, lifesaving work by assisting mariners to pass safely through Scottish waters. All they are asking for is a fair pay offer similar to other workers providing a key public service.” @UniteSharon https://t.co/5uy1yXZdMQ
— Unite the union: join a union (@unitetheunion) March 28, 2023
Unite said its members provide vital maintenance and operational support for lighthouses, beacons and buoys at sea, ensuring that vessels and ships have safe passage through Scottish waters.
The union’s industrial officer, Alison Maclean, said: “Unite’s NLB members deserve a pay offer which at the very least matches that of other workers providing a key public service.
“The current 2% following a pay freeze last year is insulting when inflation has jumped to its highest rate in 45 years.
“If there is no revised pay offer then quite literally the beacons and buoys at sea could go out or remain faulty due to any strike action our members could take.
“This would present major safety issues for vessels passing through Scottish waters.”
NLB said it is bound entirely by UK Government pay policy and has been left with “no room to manoeuvre”.
The NLB’s main office is in Edinburgh and technical operations are carried out in Oban, Argyll and Bute, where there are maintenance workshops and facilities for the construction of beacons and buoys.
NLB technicians are also based in Inverness, Shetland and Orkney, and the NLB has two vessels based in Oban – NLV Pharos and NLV Pole Star.
The NLB maintain 208 lighthouses across Scotland and the Isle of Man.
Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “Unite’s members at the NLB provide vital, and at times lifesaving work, by assisting mariners to pass safely through Scottish waters.
“In recognition of this valuable work, all they are asking for is a fair pay offer similar to other workers providing a key public service.
“Unite will back our NLB members all the way in their fight for better jobs, pay and conditions.”
NLB chief executive Mike Bullock said: “The Northern Lighthouse Board (NLB) is aware that members of Unite are being balloted for industrial action.
“NLB’s most important asset is its team of around 200 mariners, engineers and specialist support staff and we do everything practicable to ensure our people are provided with the right conditions to ensure they can continue to deliver a vital safety service to mariners.
“The financial pressure placed on individuals due to high inflation is fully appreciated; however, as an arm’s length body of the Department for Transport, NLB is bound entirely by UK Government pay policy.
“The NLB pay offer is subject to formal review and approval at each step.
“The pay settlement has gone through an exhaustive approval process which leaves NLB with no room to manoeuvre.”
A UK Government spokesman said: “Public sector pay strikes a careful balance between recognising the vital importance of public sector workers while delivering value for taxpayers and avoiding higher prices in the future.
“We are constantly reviewing pay policies across government and are having productive discussion with unions to ensure that we are doing the best we can for workers.”