Lighthouse workers in Scotland vote for strike action in historic first as union warns of danger to life
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Members of the Unite union employed by Northern Lighthouse Board (NLB), who operate lighthouses, beacons and buoys along the coast of Scotland, are balloting on strike action in what the union is describing as a “historic first”.
It sees about 30 Unite members, which include seamen, base assistants, cooks and technicians take part in the ballot, which closes on April 24. 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."
Unite said that following last year’s pay freeze, the NLB has offered a two percent pay rise. The offer was branded “insulting” by the union, saying it is a substantial real-term pay cut over two years.
Alison MacLean, Unite industrial officer, 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 two per cent following a pay freeze last year is insulting when inflation has jumped to its highest rate in 45 years."
The union also said its members provide vital support and maintenance for buoys, beacons and lighthouses, and ensure that ships and vessels have a safe passage through the seas around Scotland. It warned that if the workers vote for strike action, the buoys and beacons could go out.
Ms MacLean added: "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."
According to NLB, their pay policy is bound entirely to the UK government, which leaves them with “no room to manoeuvre”.
The company is headquartered in Edinburgh, and from here they remotely monitor its network of lighthouses, and aids navigation through Scottish waters. They carry out technical operations at its Oban base where maintenance workshops and facilities for construction of beacons and buoys are located.
They have technicians based in Inverness, Shetland and Orkney, as well as two vessels, NLV Pharos, and NLV Pole Star, based in Oban. The two ships are used to deliver supplies and stores to lighthouses, and to carry out buoy work and statutory inspections of navigation aids provided by harbours and ports.
Across Scotland and Isle of Man, the NBL operates and maintains 208 lighthouses and 174 buoys. The lighthouses are situated in some of the most remote and spectacular locations, and their vital operation has guided ships and vessels safely throughout Scottish waters since 1786.
Responding to news of the strike ballot, Mike Bullock, chief executive of NLB, said: "The Northern Lighthouse Board 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."