Sumburgh airport is to be hit by strikes after security staff voted overwhelmingly in favour of industrial action, it was announced on Friday afternoon.
The union Prospect said staff will stage a 48 hour strike from midday on 7 April at all airports run by government-owned Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd (HIAL).
HIAL has rejected a union demand for what it says amounts to a 30 per cent pay rise and insists that the airports will remain open and operate “near normal” despite the action.
The unions argue that staff employed by HIAL’s security company Airport Management Services Ltd (AMSL) should enjoy equal terms and conditions with other airport staff.
Prospect, which represents 120 out of 160 security staff at 11 airports, has been trying without success to negotiate equal pay, holidays and sick pay since AMSL became part of HIAL six years ago.
They say their members are given two and a half days a year paid sick leave, compared with six months for their HIAL colleagues.
Some 87 per cent of Prospect members voted in favour of industrial action on a turnout of 85 per cent for the ballot.
The union said that it was delaying action until after Easter to avoid holiday travel disruption, adding that its dispute was with the employers and not passengers.
The 48 hour stoppage will be followed by a ‘work to contract’, including a ban on overtime and rest day working.
Prospect national secretary Alan Denney said: “The ballot result announced this afternoon shows a clear determination to secure fairness for AMSL workers.
“The company and Scottish government should be in no doubt that members have had enough.”
The union said that it was ready to meet with management to negotiate a settlement, and that HIAL had rejected talks on Friday afternoon.
However HIAL said it was the union which had refused to negotiate, insisting they remained “willing to engage”.
The company issued a statement saying that AMSL staff had already enjoyed a 30 per cent rise in basic pay over the past five years and been entered into a “generous” pension scheme for the first time.
The statement said that Prospect’s demands amounted to almost a 30 per cent pay rise, which involved parity with employees at Sumburgh airport.
“The latter demand is particularly unreasonable given that wages at Sumburgh are traditionally higher than on the mainland because of the higher cost of living, low unemployment rates and a buoyant oil-based economy which has traditionally attracted higher wages.”
It added HIAL was governed by the Scottish government’s pay policy and therefore it could not accede to Prospect’s “unrealistic demands”.
“However, we remain open to further dialogue with Prospect and to continuing our constructive approach.
“Even at this late stage, we hope that industrial action can be averted.
“However, passengers can be assured that we will work hard to keep any disruption to a minimum and ensure that a near normal service can be provided.”
HIAL said Prospect had been asked to “modify their unrealistic claim and highlight which elements they would be prepared to negotiate on, but have thus far refused. HIAL, on the other hand, remains open to further negotiation.”