Tug workers heading towards becoming full SIC employees

Video time lapse: Courtesy of John Bateson

WHILE the immediate threat of strike action at the port of Sullom Voe has been averted, it emerged this week that a lasting agreement on the award of long service payments to tug men has still to be negotiated.

A statement by Unite issued ten days ago made it look as though union had won an unquestionable victory over Shetland Islands Council in its demands for a long service award of a one month salary in recognition of 25 years of service.

What the union forgot to say is that both sides have also agreed to work towards ‘harmonising’ towage workers’ terms and conditions with those of all other council employees.

This means that those working on the tugs at the oil port will lose a number of benefits held under their previous employment contracts in return for the long service payment.

Should an agreement not be reached by April next year, the long service awards will have to be paid back.

The towage service, formerly provided by Shetland Towage Ltd, was taken over by Shetland Islands Council in 2006. Employees transferred to the SIC under TUPE, meaning they continued to be employed under their previous terms and conditions, which are more generous than the local authority’s terms apart from the long service award element.

Council chief executive Maggie Sandison said agreeing to an early payment of the long service awards had been a goodwill gesture.

She said the union’s public statement did not fully explain the position both sides had “mutually arrived at”.

She also said she had regarded the temporary agreement as confidential and, initially, had no intention to discuss it publicly due to the small amount of employees affected by it.

SIC chief executive Maggie Sandison: ‘Goodwill gesture’. Photo: Shetland News

However, when asked by Shetland News why the council appeared to have caved in to union demands, Sandison was adamant that that was not the case.

“What we have done is finding a way of addressing the immediate pressure of the strike with a full commitment and a programme to work towards harmonisation,” she said.

“All we have done in reaching this agreement is provided for an early payment of something that they would be entitled to under harmonised terms and conditions.

“If we don’t achieve harmonisation within a set deadline [April next year] that we have given ourselves and the union, then that early payment will be recoverable from the employees.

“It’s a goodwill gesture – to show our commitment to addressing this long-standing issue but not in a way that leaves the council exposed to any risk.

“So what has been achieved is an agreement for harmonisation which will allow us to take out the anomaly of different terms and conditions under TUPE, and in doing that we are a better organisation because we have equal pay and equal conditions across our entire workforce.”

She added: “I had considered that the agreement that had been reached was confidential and I had not expected a press release to be issued, so my intention was not to enter into that discussion in a public way.

“It is a small number of employees (…) and they have a right to privacy around their terms and conditions.”

Union representatives John Boland and John Clark were both contacted to clarify the Unite’s position.

A Unite spokesperson said this morning that the union would not be adding anything further to its statement from 9 July “at this juncture”.

Shetland News