POLITICIANS from across the Highlands and Islands are calling on the Scottish Government to intervene in the ongoing industrial dispute between publicly owned HIAL and air traffic controller union Prospect after new strike dates forced Loganair into cancelling a total of 74 flights across the network.
There will be no flights to and from Sumburgh and Kirkwall on Monday 22 July while some Northern Isles services will also be cancelled on Sunday 21 July and Tuesday 23 July.
All services to and from Stornoway, Benbecula and Dundee will be cancelled on Tuesday 23 July.
A list of all flights cancelled plus further information of how to rebook or get a refund can be found at https://www.loganair.co.uk/travel-advice-21_23-jul/
Flights will not be reinstated in case the strike is being called off.
Loganair said it could only apologise for the inconvenience caused, and it pointed out that the ”disruption is an inevitable consequence of the ongoing industrial action by the air traffic control officers”, and had nothing to do with the airline.
Air traffic controllers are demanding a pay increase of at least 10 per cent to bring their salaries more in line with what is generally paid across the industry.
As a public sector organisation Highlands and Islands Airports Limited (HIAL) is however restricted in what it can put forward to resolve the conflict.
A recently offered retention allowance said to be worth £10,000 over five years was overwhelmingly rejected by union members, but remains on the table, according to HIAL.
The operator acknowledged that the continued industrial action is having a “significant impact” on communities and the airline operating from its airports, while Prospect has said it has been trying to resolve the dispute for more than a year.
Northern isles MP Alistair Carmichael said that in his view this was more than simply about industrial relations: “This is an example of chronic failure of politics to protect lifeline air service to the Highlands and Islands.
“HIAL is unique in being an airport group owned by government. It is unforgivable that the SNP Scottish Government should have allowed things to get to this stage, he added.
Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Rhoda Grant meanwhile accused the SNP of being responsible for the ongoing dispute as it was the government that could make an increase pay offer.
“The offer made was not a permanent increase in salary, but a recruitment and retention allowance that could have been removed at any time as happened with Marine Scotland mariners,” she said.
“The Scottish Government must now allow HIAL to negotiate a deal the reflects what air traffic controllers earn elsewhere and bring this dispute to an end.”
Speaking for the Conservatives, Jamie Halcro Johnston called on the government to urgently “get a grip on this matter”.
“People and businesses in Shetland need air and ferry services they can rely on, and ministers should be ensuring our transport links are fit for purpose and reliable,” he added.
“It’s time the SNP government in Edinburgh stopped sitting on their hands on HIAL’s dispute with the unions and used the powers, and the influence they have as HIAL’s owners, to get this problem sorted.”
The chairman of Shetland Islands Council’s environment and transport committee, Ryan Thomson, added: “The ongoing strike action continues to raise real concern, in particular when service sustainability and delivery is now being put at risk.
“I urge all parties to get around the table and reach an agreed position as a matter of priority before the Shetland public are affected further.”
Hi words were echoed by the isles political leader Steven Coutts who said the travelling public was paying the price for a dispute that has gone on for too long.
“HIAL are wholly owned by the Scottish Government and I would call on them to ensure that they do everything in their power to resolve this. The discussions between HIAL and the Union clearly are getting us no closer to a resolution. It is time for government to step in to ensure it is resolved,” he said.
Scottish transport minister Michael Matheson, meanwhile, was not available to respond these views as he is currently on annual leave.
Islands minister Paul Wheelhouse was not available for interview but issued a statement saying that the Scottish Government was encouraging both parties in the dispute to work towards a resolution of the pay disagreement, “which is clearly not in the interest of passengers or the communities served by HIAL airports”.
He added: “The cabinet secretary, Michael Matheson, has authorised HIAL to develop a retention allowance as part of the Air Traffic Management 2030 Strategy programme.
“We have been clear with both HIAL and Prospect that any settlement must be in line with Scottish public sector pay policy.
“HIAL has implemented a pay rise for all staff, which is a significant improvement on previous years, as well as significantly increasing their contribution to their pension scheme in order to maintain this benefit for employees.
“In the face of the UK Government’s continued budget cuts, the Scottish Government has delivered a distinctive and progressive pay policy for 2018/19 – one which is fair, supports those on lower incomes and protects public sector jobs and services while delivering value for money for the people of Scotland.”