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Business / Helicopter crews strike in national dispute

A Bristow S-92 helicopter at Scatsta airport.

MEMBERS of the British Airline Pilots’ Association (BALPA) working for Bristow Helicopters have started a programme of strike action.

The union says its members “have been forced to strike by a management which continues to belligerently ignore their calls for a fair and reasonable pay offer”.

Bristow said it had made an offer providing “significant enhancements to pay and conditions”.

The pilots and tech crew, including search and recuse winch operators and winch paramedics, will be involved in strike action starting today (Tuesday) which will take place on certain days through to June.

Bristow operates the coastguard search and rescue service based at Sumburgh, as well as other bases around the country.

When asked if any Shetland-based members are taking part in strike action, BALPA said it does not give out figures for membership or individual bases.

Regarding the impact on search and rescue services across the country, the union said it has structured the strike action so there will be “life and limb cover”.

Bristow said it has “detailed and comprehensive mitigation plans” in place for services, including search and rescue.

BALPA said it had previously postponed strike dates in a bid to pursue a negotiated settlement, and entered into ACAS talks, but “the company has failed to listen and has not come forward with a fair pay offer that is acceptable to BALPA members”.

General secretary Amy Leversidge said: “We’ve been in negotiations for well over a year and have given the company ample opportunities to listen to its own staff.

“Time and again Bristow management has shown the contempt it has for employees by failing to present an offer that is anywhere near acceptable to our members.

“These loyal pilots and technical crew operate in some of the most treacherous and challenging conditions transporting workers to the oil and gas rigs in the North Sea and providing vital search and rescue services.

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“There are tens of thousands of workers offshore at any time working in the oil and gas industry and every single one is able to get to work and get home again because of helicopter pilots. The oil and gas industry contributes significantly to the UK economy and pilots are vital to that work.

“Search and rescue pilots and technical crew (including winch operators and winch paramedics) risk their lives to save others and provide one of the most challenging emergency services.

“Despite years of pay freezes and cuts BALPA members have remained dedicated to their jobs and have supported the company in difficult times.

“Now the company is doing well and reporting profits our members are simply asking for a fair pay deal that demonstrates the company values them and repays some of the loyalty shown and the contribution pilots and technical crews have made to the company’s success.

“Our members are determined to be heard. Bristow management need to listen and put forward a fair pay offer that recognises the considerable value of pilots and technical crew.”

A spokesperson for Bristow said: “We are disappointed that BALPA is leading their members out on strike action despite receiving an offer which provides significant enhancements to pay and conditions.

“The offer was developed following consultation with staff, detailed market analysis and lengthy talks with the union.

“We have detailed and comprehensive mitigation plans in place for all of our customers, including the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, and will ensure a level of service remains available to support their emergency response to members of the public in urgent need.

“We are calling on BALPA to continue working with us, through the ACAS process, towards a realistic and sustainable solution.

“Bristow will continue to focus all efforts on providing safe and critical services to customers impacted by the actions of BALPA.”

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