Negotiations between Unite the Union and Lerwick Port Authority (LPA) to avert a hugely damaging strike at the harbour on Monday seem to have collapsed.
The union said “very angry” members had unanimously voted to reject an offer from the port’s bosses.
The bitter pay and conditions dispute hinges on wages and work-life balance.
Staff will walk out at a minute past midnight on Monday unless any last-ditch talks later today or over the weekend resolve the workers’ many grievances.
A strike would wreak havoc on ferry operations, cruise liners and the oil and gas industry as well as general shipping, but LPA remains confident it can cope with any disruption.
Only this week Lerwick harbour welcomed its largest cruise ship of the season as the 102,000 gross tonne Costa Fortuna arrived at the Shetland port.
With 100 ship arrivals slated to arrive until October, port bosses will be desperately hoping for a swift resolution to the dispute.
Unite is standing firm on its insistence the port authority re-examines its offer.
“The members are very, very angry,” Unite regional officer John Clark told The Press and Journal.
He added: “As it stands we have not come to an agreement and the strike is going ahead.
“The problem is about the over-time rates and work-life balance. What has been offered, they would be actually working more hours than less.”
Work-life balance key to negotiations
Unite would not confirm details of the offer made to its members by LPA, but it appears the port authority is looking to wrap any improvement in basic wages into a salary rather than an hourly rate.
The union maintains its members’ overtime at Lerwick makes up 40% of their wage and insists this is not conducive to a fair work-life balance.
“They (LPA) have come up with a decent basic wage but they want to put it into a salary which means people who do overtime don’t get overtime,” added Mr Clark.
“They have offered a very minimal amount to be available and it is totally unacceptable.
“I have written to the authority today rejecting the offer and am waiting for them to phone me to get back round the table.”
If the working week was capped at 40 hours, the terms “would have been acceptable”, Unite said.
But as it stands staff are due to down tools in an attempt to force port bosses to renegotiate.
“If they (LPA) come up with a time and date I will speak to them,” said Mr Clark, who noted Unite would be available all weekend to avert what would be a costly walkout.
LPA was not immediately available for comment but a recent statement from its chief executive, Calum Grains, said: “The potential escalation of industrial action by Unite members to a full strike is extremely disappointing, given a proposal is with Unite.”
The port turned over £9.5 million in 2020, according to Unite.
Lerwick received the 2021 port of the year award and recently benefited from a £30m upgrade.