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Business / SIC tug men to be balloted on industrial action over long service award

The crews of the tugs are vital for the port of Sella Ness to be operational. Photo: John Bateson

OIL EXPORT from the port of Sullom Voe could be disrupted later this spring if the crews working on the council run tugs vote for industrial action over the terms of a long service award.

Members of the Unite union based at Sella Ness are being balloted next week.

Unite said its members will lose out on an award paid to council employees after 25 years of service, equivalent to one month salary, and instead be given a flat rate of £250.

But Shetland Islands Council chief executive Maggie Sandison said the workers are on TUPE protected terms and conditions that includes their own long-service benefit payment.

The towage service at the port came under council’s wing around 15 years ago when the local authority bought Shetland Towage – a company wholly owned by Shetland Charitable Trust – around 15 years ago, and crews transferred under TUPE.

“I am keen to understand from Unite the lawful basis of the ballot as the council is satisfied that it has honoured the TUPE protected terms and conditions employment of Unite’s members,” Sandison said.

Unite industrial officer John Boland described the situation as “completely unjust and discriminatory” and one that the union has unsuccessfully tried to raise over recent years.

The ballot will open on the 13 April and close on the 27 April.

If support for industrial action is successful then strike action is planned for the middle of May, which could result in a “significant shock” to oil processing and supplies, the union said.

A previous consultative ballot of the members in February showed that 97 per cent are willing to take industrial action on a ballot turnout of 81 per cent.

Boland said: “These members work on the tugs at Sullom Voe Terminal and bring the oil tankers to port so they can be loaded and unloaded.

“Without these members oil from the terminal simply can’t be loaded onto tankers and oil from other fields equally can’t be unloaded to be processed.

“If the members support industrial action, which we fully expect, then a significant shock to oil processing and supplies created exclusively by the hands of the council is on the immediate horizon.”

Sandison said the long service award is available to the council’s Scottish Joint Council (SJC) employees.

“It does not form part of our towage service employees’ contracts of employment, who remain on their TUPE protected terms and conditions that includes their own long-service benefit payment,” she explained.

“The SJC terms might objectively be viewed as being less favourable than the TUPE’d terms.

“Our towage service employees cannot access benefits under an entirely separate contract of employment unless they agree to full harmonisation of the SJC terms and conditions.”