THE PROSPECT trade union has rejected a plea from Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd. (HIAL) to end the ongoing industrial dispute that has led to a security staff walkout this week.
The airport group’s managing director Inglis Lyon called for a cease to the strike midway through the 48-hour action, which began at noon on Tuesday and is due to end at noon on Thursday.
But Prospect union national secretary Alan Denney said it would not call off the strike without a formal offer to resolve what he described as a “long-running battle for equal treatment” for the union’s members.
Denney led the walkout at Inverness Airport yesterday, and the union said all of its rostered members took part.
HIAL said 10 of its 11 airports were operating normally, with only services between Dundee and Stansted affected, with non-union members and management stepping in to keep flights moving.
Passengers are being asked to arrive 15-20 minutes early for their flight and limit the amount of liquids and luggage they bring to the airport.
Though disruption for passengers has been minimal, Denney said the action was “working as planned”.
“Business as normal means that management have had to neglect normal duties,” he said. “Business as usual also manes that HIAL have made inappropriate use of taxpayers’ money by employing agency workers – possibly unlawfully – to break the strike.
“If it is business as usual then why are HIAL management so desperate for us to return to the bargaining table? Our dispute will continue until we secure fairness for all our members including those in Shetland, unless of course that would be seen as unreasonable.”
Several flights in and out of Sumburgh on Tuesday were subject to delays of an hour or more, but HIAL said those were all weather-related and nothing to do with the security staff walkout.
On Wednesday morning Lyon said: “Midway through this unnecessary strike, I would urge the union to return to the negotiating table.
“Prolonged industrial action is not in anyone’s interests, least of all our passengers, the many businesses and jobs that rely on our airports and the airport workers affected by the industrial action.”
He said both sides “showed a willingness last week to enter into discussions and I believe that Prospect would better serve the interests of its members by suspending the strike action and resuming a constructive dialogue”.
“Neither side favours a protracted dispute,” Lyon added. “With that in mind, I would urge Prospect to take stock, suspend the strike and allow discussions to restart. I believe we can make progress.”
But Denney told Shetland News he was only made aware of HIAL’s latest request when he was alerted by the media to a press release the airport group had issued.
“Prospect’s position has always been that it stands ready to discuss the terms of any formal written offer,” Denney said. “However, it appears this is simply another offer of talks about talks. We’ve been doing that on and off for six years now.
“Without an offer we will not be suspending the strike and resuming talks.”
The dispute centres on pay and conditions for staff who, since 2009, have been employed by HIAL subsidiary AMSL.
The union insists that since bringing security in-house, management had “failed to agree equal pay, holidays, and sick pay for AMSL’s airport security workers”.
Prospect represents more than 120 of AMSL’s 160 workers at 11 Scottish airports.
But HIAL claims Prospect is making unreasonable demands by asking for a basic pay increase of five per cent, equalization with HIAL’s terms and conditions and parity with higher paid staff at Sumburgh.
The airport group says those in Shetland are paid more to reflect the higher cost of living, low unemployment and a buoyant oil-based economy.
“Collectively, this package of measures would amount to an almost 30 per cent increase,” HIAL said.