Unite fights Scottish Government over ‘illegal’ pay imposition at Marine Scotland

Unite the union has confirmed it is set to challenge the Scottish Government in an escalating dispute over the imposition of a potentially `illegal’ pay award.

Around 80 Unite members are involved in a month-long industrial action ballot at Scotland’s fisheries protection fleet, which opens today and closes on 25 April.  

Marine Scotland is responsible for ensuring that fishermen comply with the law when catching fish.  By preventing overfishing or the wrong size of fish catch, the workforce helps to ensure that fish stocks in Scotland’s seas are sustainable.

Unite’s members undertake active seafaring roles including engineers, cooks, petty officers, merchant officers, mate and deck hands.

The dispute centres on the imposition by the Scottish Government of a two per cent pay award for 2021 which Unite warns could constitute an ‘illegal inducement’. An illegal inducement – when an employer imposes a pay award against the wishes of workforce – breaches collective bargaining arrangements. By doing this, the Scottish government could be potentially in breach of the law.

The Scottish Government confirmed the imposition of the pay award in January 2022, in effect a substantial real terms pay cut given that the more realistic measure of living costs (RPI) has now hit 8.2 per cent.

Sharon Graham, Unite general secretary, said: “Unite’s members at Marine Scotland are furious over their treatment by the Scottish Government. The two per cent pay imposition comes at a time when inflation runs at more than four times that rate and keeps climbing.

“It is a disgrace that the Scottish Government broke off negotiations before they reached their conclusion to impose this real terms pay cut. The Scottish Government has to get real and return with a more realistic offer.

 “Unite will defend our members’ jobs, terms and conditions at all times and they have the full support of the union in this fight.”

Sandy Smart, Unite industrial officer, added: “Unite has attempted to re-engage the Scottish Government in negotiations with no success.

“Our members perform vital and life-saving roles but they’re getting a substantial real terms pay cut and being told to like it or lump it. This is an appalling way to treat key workers who over a number of years have fallen behind other public sector workers’ pay, which is why we are taking this to an industrial action ballot.”

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Rhoda Grant said: “To impose a deal on this group of workers is like something out of Thatcher’s playbook  – quite incredible really.

 “These seafarers should not have to fight again to receive what they deserve in pay and conditions. I fully support their stance and appeal to the Scottish Government to get around the table with the union.”