Coastguards strike for the first time!

Another historic first strike, another what-does-that-tell-you-about-New-Labour moment…

From The Morning Star:

Coastguards stage first ever strike
(Thursday 06 March 2008)

DETERMINED Maritime and Coastguard Agency workers mounted picket lines outside centres across Britain on Thursday in their first ever strike over poverty pay.

Around half of Britain’s 19 rescue centres were closed and management were drafted in to other sites to handle emergency and Mayday calls.

Hundreds of PCS and Prospect union members took part in the strike – the first in the agency’s history – over below-inflation wage rises.

The union said that pay levels at the agency were “way below” those in other emergency services, leaving staff furious.

Many workers, including coastguard watch assistants, are only earning the national minimum wage.

Pay rises last year averaged 2.5 per cent and starting salaries were just over £12,000.

Around a dozen coastguards protested outside the Dover Coastguard Rescue Co-ordination Centre, one of the busiest in the country.

Senior watch manager Trevor Doyle, who is believed to be one of the agency’s longest-serving members with more than 36 years service behind him, said that he and his team had been forced to go on strike as “past negotiations have been fruitless.

“We have been pursuing alternatives to industrial action for just short of a year, but it has had no effect,” said Mr Doyle.

“We don’t want to strike, but there is nothing else we can do,” he complained.

Dover and Deal Labour MP Gwyn Prosser attended the picket to lend his support.

He said that he planned to raise the coastguards’ cause in Parliament.

“I’ve spoken to some people who work in this station who turn in barely £14,000 a year. That’s just not fair,” said Mr Prosser.

“If you compare them with the other emergency services, they have had a very bad time.”

A picket outside the coastguard base in Lee-on-the-Solent received regular beeps of support from passing motorists.

Coastguard watch officer Geoff Matthews said of the action: “This is frustration that the Maritime and Coastguard Agency has organised three job evaluations in the past few years and all of them have been ignored.

“All the coastguard grades are undergraded for a job which is technically difficult, demanding and requires a lot of training. The public have been showing their support a lot this morning.”

Scottish workers took action at the Aberdeen, Forth, Clyde and Stornoway rescue centres.

PCS Scotland official Steve Quinn said that “pay rates for watch assistance are a disgrace.”

Maritime union Nautilus UK also gave its full support for the strike, urging its members serving with the agency not to scab.

Nautilus UK assistant general secretary Mark Dickinson said: “Maritime and Coastguard Agency coastguards and surveyors do work that is vital to the safety of shipping and the lives of our members at sea.

“There is a clear need for experienced seafarers in these positions, but our information shows how out of kilter their salaries are,” said Mr Dickinson.

The agency said that contingency plans had been put in place during the strike and that coverage was not “wholly inadequate.”

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