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Transport / Air traffic controllers vote in favour of industrial action

The Sumburgh Airport control tower.

DOMESTIC air travel in Scotland is set to be disrupted by industrial action this spring and summer unless a last minute resolution between the union Prospect and HIAL, the operator of airports in the Highlands and Islands, can be found.

Prospect announced on Friday that its air traffic control member had voted overwhelmingly to take industrial action after the union’s pay demands were rejected by the employer.

Airports at Sumburgh, Kirkwall, Inverness, Stornoway, Dundee, Benbecula and Wick are now likely to close on days of industrial action.

Prospect said it would confirm its plans next week, but has already indicated that strike dates would be set for the period between 1 April and 31 August.

The union’s negotiating officer David Avery said 88 per cent of members had voted for strike action.

HIAL chief executive Inglis Lyon said the government owned company was open to continue talks but was not able to offer pay awards that were above Scottish Government pay policy.

Meanwhile, politicians from across the region have called on both sides of the dispute to find a resolution and to avoid further escalation.

Avery said: “Prospect members have overwhelmingly backed the union’s position and sent a clear message to the Scottish Government that enough is enough.

“Our members at HIAL undertake highly skilled roles, much in demand across the UK and Europe, but due to public sector pay restraint their pay has fallen significantly behind the rest of the industry.

“Air Traffic Controllers do not want to have to take this action but Ministers’ refusal to engage with the issue of pay has left them with no choice.

“Prospect remains ready to negotiate at any point to avoid this action but ministers must come back to the table with a new meaningful offer.”

Lyon, said: “The Prospect union has sought a double-digit pay award. As a government sponsored agency, HIAL must follow the Scottish Government pay policy. We cannot implement pay awards more than that directed by government.

“HIAL made a pay award offer to all staff which was accepted following an overall ballot of trade union members and paid to all staff at the end of September 2018.  This was backdated to 1 April 2018 and saw colleagues receive increases of up to three per cent in line with Scottish Government pay remit guidelines.

“Prospect ATC members rejected the pay settlement, but nonetheless received the increase.

“We are open to holding further talks with Prospect on a recruitment and retention allowance for Air Traffic Control staff that would further bolster an attractive remuneration package that already includes excellent pension benefits and holiday entitlements.”

Green Highlands and islands MSP John Finnie said he was supporting the union and its members.

“The Scottish Ministers own HIAL and have a responsibility to ensure this situation is resolved urgently, with a fair settlement for staff,” he said.

“It’s perhaps no surprise that the Transport Secretary refused to say he had confidence in HIAL’s management the last time I asked him. I continue to offer solidarity and support to Prospect and its members.”

Meanwhile, Highlands and Islands Conservative MSP Jamie Halcro Johnston said industrial action had the potential to cause major disruption for passengers.

“Not only will this affect business and leisure travellers, but also could leave island communities in particular cut off with few alternatives for quick travel to the mainland.

“And there are a number of more urgent concerns, such as what would happen with emergency medical transport, as well as patients flying south for pre-arranged medical appointments.

“It is vital that this dispute is resolved before these airports are left with no alternative but to shut down, with passengers across the Highlands and Islands suffering.”