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Emergency services / Helicopter pilots to walk out in March over pay dispute

A stock photo of the Coastguard helicopter at the Clickimin landing site. Photo: Shetland News

SEARCH and rescue services in Shetland and beyond could be affected next month after pilot union BALPA released strike dates for March.

The union has been in talks with Bristow Helicopters for months to negotiate a better pay deal.

Earlier this month BALPA announced that members had voted overwhelmingly for strike action.

Pilots and technical staff will walk out on:

  • Sunday 3rd –Tuesday 5th March
  • Monday 11th – Wednesday 13th March
  • Monday 18th – Wednesday 20th March
  • Monday 25th – Wednesday 27th March

Bristow holds the coastguard search and rescue contract for the north of Scotland.

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency previously said it was working on developing contingency plans.

BALPA general secretary Amy Leversidge said: “Our members in Bristow Helicopters, have endured years of pay cuts and freezes and are now saying enough is enough.

“These pilots and technical crew (winch paramedics and winch operators), operate in some of the most treacherous conditions providing vital search and rescue services and transporting workers to the oil and gas rigs in the North Sea.

“They have remained loyal to Bristow in difficult times, and now the company is booming, and oil and gas is raking in unprecedented profits, it is wholly unreasonable to expect them to remain on austerity pay.

“Bristow’s management has failed to listen to employees and offer a decent pay deal. We have repeatedly opened the door for them to come forward with a revised offer, but it just hasn’t come.

“We strongly urge Bristow to start listening to what their workers are telling them loud and clear- to get back to the bargaining table with BALPA with a fair and reasonable pay offer, to prevent further escalation in this dispute.”

“We believe our latest offer is highly competitive and remain committed to working collaboratively with BALPA to arrive at a fair and sustainable agreement that recognises the hard work and commitment of our team and to avoid unnecessary strike action.”

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Meanwhile Northern Isles MP Alistair Carmichael has expressed his concern over the proposed action.

“I am extremely concerned by the developments with Bristow and have been keeping in close contact with the MCA about the situation as it develops – I know that they will be taking action to keep people informed and to mitigate the risks,” he said.

“That we will have at least two weeks advance warning before any strike occurs is at least somewhat helpful, but safety at sea and other search-and-rescue operations must be the top priority, whatever happens.

“If strikes do go ahead then we will be relying on the MCA and others to step up to avoid anything falling through the gaps.”

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