June 24, 2008

Ministers Urged to Intervene After Islands ‘Crippled’ By Airport Strikes


THE Scottish Government was under pressure last night to resolve a damaging industrial dispute that disrupted the travel plans of more than 2,000 air passengers yesterday.

Strike action by fire and rescue staff meant more than 70 lifeline flights were cancelled at nine of the 11 airports operated by Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd (HIAL) on behalf of the government.

Barra, Benbecula, Campbeltown, Islay, Kirkwall, Stornoway, Sumburgh, Tiree and Wick airports were closed. Inverness Airport remained open, but flights to Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles were affected. Another day of action is planned for 4 July.

The dispute is over a 2 per cent pay offer, which HIAL says is the highest it can go because of government limits on public-sector pay rises.

Tavish Scott, the Liberal Democrat MSP for Shetland, plans to raise the dispute at Holyrood this week.

He said: "I will stress the importance of ministers stepping in to help to find a solution before the next strike."

He went on: "Ministers cannot leave this to HIAL to sort out. The union leaders have today made it quite clear that they see this as a dispute with the Scottish Government, not with HIAL, so ministers need to step in.

"The strike is having a crippling impact on the islands, disrupting business and family travel. People have had to rearrange their travel plans, often at considerable cost.

"Ministers must act, and act quickly, to find a solution."

But a Scottish Government spokesman, while urging both sides to resolve the dispute, insisted it was a matter for "the company, their employees and their recognised trade unions".

He said: "Given the vital services these airports provide to the public and their economic importance to Highlands and islands communities, we would urge all parties to find a swift resolution to this dispute to avoid disruption to passengers."

He said all public bodies were subject to public sector pay policy, adding: "The Scottish Government is committed to ensuring public sector pay increases are affordable and sustainable and that they are aligned to service delivery and targeted at improving performance."

Nat Anderson, HIAL's spokesman, said it was deeply disappointed the strike had gone ahead and that every effort had been made to avoid it.

An earlier strike, planned for 9 June, was called off to allow discussions to take place with the conciliation service ACAS. However, the pay talks broke down again last week.

The strikers' union, Unite, said the 2 per cent offer had been rejected as inadequate due to the unique nature and the risk their jobs involve. It claimed workers at three airports had been asked to do additional security duties alongside firefighting as part of efficiency savings, but this was ruled out as a "non-runner".

Donald Munro, Unite's regional official, said members had no option but to take strike action.

MORE INFO www.hial.co.uk www.amicustheunion.org

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