4 January 2017
Seagoing staff working for Marine Scotland lost £3000 of a £5000 retention payment because their management decided to abandon a two-year deal approved by a Scottish Government Reward and HR Policy panel in 2015.
Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Rhoda Grant received the information from Marine Scotland when she asked when the panel, which looks into the business case for Government posts, was due to meet again to decide on the remaining £2,000 of the retention payment.
She discovered workers could have been paid the full £5,000 until October 2017 were it not for Marine Scotland’s decision to cut the payment from May last year.
It argued that more people were looking for jobs in the marine industry and that continued payment of the supplement was no longer required to recruit and retain staff.
Mrs Grant is campaigning on behalf of seafarers, working for what was formerly the Scottish Fishery Protection Fleet, to ensure they receive the going rate for the job.
Last month she met representatives of Marine Scotland in the Scottish Parliament and asked for the full retention payment to be reinstated. She then wrote and asked for further information.
“There was a bit smoke and mirrors going on when I talked to Marine Scotland about this payment and when decisions were made and could be made in the future,” explained Mrs Grant.
“It appears that management could have looked elsewhere for possible savings if necessary because it had permission to keep paying this extra money until at least next year.
“It is now apparent that staff are shouldering the cuts, causing hardship for those who work long hours at sea, when management should be rewarding them and seeking to retain their skills during difficult times.”
Mrs Grant was also surprised when she asked for recruitment figures regarding the number of applicants for each vacancy advertised.
Marine Scotland said once a recruitment campaign is closed it ceased to have access to details.
However, the figures that it could find highlighted there were fewer applications for seamen’s posts in 2015/16 than in 2014/15.
They received 161 applications for 6 posts in 2014/15 compared with 155 for 9 posts in 2015/16.
Mrs Grant added that currently there were as many temporary and agency staff operating on board the fishery protection fleet as there were before the introduction of the retention payment, which would suggest that removing it is having a detrimental effect.
Last month the Scottish Labour Party won an amendment to a motion in Parliament, supported by SNP MSPs, to give Marine Scotland staff a fair wage.
“It looks as though Marine Scotland has gone out on a limb with this and the Scottish Government aren’t too happy with them either,” said Mrs Grant.
“This disparity affecting seafarers’ wages should be sorted out as soon as possible and the 2015 agreement reinstated with the full £5,000.”
“There are still huge issues in recruiting staff and I am concerned that we will get back to the situation a number of years ago where vessels were having to tie up because they do not have the required staffing levels for sailing in safety.”
Unite regional officer Alexander Smart said:
“This is an issue of fair pay.
“Our members at Marine Scotland are being paid less than the going rate for the job and the retention payment is one way of making up some of the difference.
“We have repeatedly warned that removing or cutting the payment will lead to staff leaving Marine Scotland – and we already know that there are many temporary and agency staff operating on board the fisheries protection fleet.
“We need the Scottish Government to come up with a clear plan that brings fairness to the pay of seafarers working in the public sector.”
Previously Mrs Grant’s Parliamentary Question discovered that seagoing staff working for Marine Scotland were being paid thousands of pounds less than those in comparable posts for ferry operator Caledonian MacBrayne.
The figures showed a chief steward for Marine Scotland can earn up to £29,579 a year while at CalMac the same post is rewarded with £37,675.
CalMac is wholly owned by Scottish Ministers, while Marine Scotland is also wholly funded by the Scottish Government with its fleet enforcing EU fishing policy and ensuring quota rules are obeyed.