Safety warning as lighthouse workers vote for strike action

Safety at sea will be compromised after lighthouse workers voted for strike action in a dispute over pay, a union has warned.

Unite the union said that its members employed by the Northern Lighthouse Board (NLB) are set to take “historic” strike action, with dates to be announced in due course.

The union blamed the UK Government for the situation, saying that NLB is in effect being forced to offer a “pitiful” 2%, when other public sector workers have been offered significantly more.

In the ballot, which closed on April 24, around 30 Unite members including able seamen, base assistants, cooks and technicians supported taking strike action by 90.6% in a turnout of 86.5%.

Unite said the workers maintain and operate Scotland’s lighthouses, beacons and buoys at sea – ensuring that vessels and ships have safe passage through Scottish waters.

NLB said it is preparing contingency plans ahead of any strike action.

Unite industrial officer Alison MacLean said: “The practical implications of Unite members taking strike action is that safety at sea will be compromised.

“The blame for this situation lies squarely at the door of the UK Government Department for Transport because the NLB simply doesn’t have the capacity to raise money to fund a better offer.”

Unite said the current NLB offer is significantly below the current rate of inflation which stands at 13.5% (RPI).

Sharon Graham, Unite general secretary, said: “Unite’s members at the NLB have emphatically supported taking historic strike action. There has been a failure on the part of the UK Government to resolve this dispute.

“The NLB is in effect being forced to offer a pitiful 2%, when other public sector workers have been offered significantly more.

“The workers deserve far better, and we will support our NLB members all the way in their fight for better jobs, pay and conditions.”

The NLB maintains 208 lighthouses across Scotland and the Isle of Man.

Mike Bullock, NLB’s chief executive, said: “Following the decision by some Northern Lighthouse Board (NLB) staff members to take industrial action, we are preparing contingency plans to ensure the essential monitoring of Aids to Navigation continues and navigation warnings are issued to mariners during the period of strike action.

“Not all NLB staff are involved in the industrial action and where possible, we will continue with routine work. If there are Aids to Navigation defects during strike periods where technicians aren’t available, we will rectify these as soon as the strike is over.

“Strikes by vessel crews will take place when the vessels are securely moored alongside NLB’s Oban base and therefore the ships will not operate at that time. We are having ongoing discussions with Unite to reach agreement for our vessels to respond to wrecks and new dangers during strike periods.

“Contractors working on NLB sites are expected to be unaffected except where they are being supported by striking NLB staff or vessels.

“We fully appreciate the financial pressure that has been placed on individual members of our team due to high inflation and the rising cost of living, however, as an Arm’s Length Body of the Department for Transport (DfT), NLB is bound entirely by UK Government pay policy.

“The pay award has gone through an exhaustive DfT approval process which leaves us with no room to manoeuvre.

“We are committed to working with the unions and our team to try to avoid further industrial action.”

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.”