Coastguards stage first ever walkout

COASTGUARDS are due to walk out today for the first time in their history.More than 30 coastguards across Suffolk and Essex will stage a 24-hour walkout today in a row over pay.

COASTGUARDS are due to walk out today for the first time in their history.

More than 30 coastguards across Suffolk and Essex will stage a 24-hour walkout today in a row over pay.

The industrial action will affect up to 700 employees at the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) across 19 rescue co-ordination centres, including Thames Coastguard in Walton-on-the-Naze and Yarmouth Coastguard.

Staff backed the walkout after a dispute over pay rates which they claim are behind other emergency services.

It means emergency calls coming into the Walton co-ordination centre will be dealt with in Dover while in Yarmouth non-union staff will monitor the radio channels.

The strike action, which is being taken by The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), will not affect staff sent out to emergencies.

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Coastguards in the region said it had been a tough decision to make but said they were left with no alternative.

Peter Wheeler, local PCS representative at Yarmouth, said: “We have no desire to go out and strike because it has put people at a little bit more of a risk than there would normally be. None of us want to do that. A lot of people are having real problems dealing with their conscience on this matter and it's not been an easy thing at all.

“We feel we have no alternative. The sort of money we are looking for overall is less than £1million across the whole coastguard operation. It's such a small amount of money in the overall government budget, it's incomprehensible.”

Mr Wheeler said coastguard watch assistant posts had to receive a special pay increase in October just to bring it up to the minimum wage.

A spokeswoman for Thames Coastguard said: “We have a computer system where we can be paired with another station. The next one down the coast from us is Dover.

“They will take our emergency calls. There will be people striking on the picket line.”

Peter Cardy, chief executive of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, said: “I am very saddened by this result and the planned strike.

“I had hoped this strike could be avoided by our engagement with the trades unions, I have made it very clear to them that I want to keep talking about a longer term pay settlement to this dispute.

“Safety at sea is the MCA's key priority and by our contingency plans which are now in place I can reassure the public that an emergency response for those at risk will not be compromised by industrial action.”