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Coastguard staff set to strike

PUBLISHED: 08:55 04 March 2008 | UPDATED: 10:32 03 July 2010

COASTGUARDS who are paid a penny over the minimum wage are to go on strike on Thursday.

Some of the 100 watch assistants are based at the Great Yarmouth coastguard rescue centre and are demanding the same pay as other emergency control staff instead of £5.

COASTGUARDS who are paid a penny over the minimum wage are to go on strike on Thursday.

Some of the 100 watch assistants are based at the Great Yarmouth coastguard rescue centre and are demanding the same pay as other emergency control staff instead of £5.53 an hour.

The Yarmouth staff at Havenbridge House co-ordinate hundreds of rescues a year over a 10,500 sq mile patch of North Sea and 188 miles of river ways from the Humber to Southwold.

Recent operations include last year's tidal surge, the stricken City of Sunderland cargo ship at Haisboro Sands in January and the search for a missing female sailor on the Norfolk Broads on Sunday.

In 2006 The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) admitted that watch assistants should be given a £4,000 pay rise to bring them in line with ambulance, police and fire control room staff.

But as yet nothing has been done to redress the wage imbalance.

It is not only watch assistants who are going on strike for 24 hours from Thursday morning; in total, 480 members of the Public and Commercial Services Union in the country's 19 rescue coordination centres are taking industrial action over wage demands.

The MCA has reassured the public that despite 80pc of its staff going on strike there will be no lessening of its emergency procedures, although day-to-day practices may have to be reduced.

A member of the 23-strong Yarmouth watch crew, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “We obviously do not like taking strike action but we feel like we have been pushed into a corner.

“All we want is parity with other emergency services.”

The low wages of watch assistants, who undertake nine months of rigorous training, result in nearly a quarter of all new ones leaving after only two years.

They only get a pay rise once they progress up the ranks to the post of watch officer.

The coastguards have received support from MPs Norman Lamb and Tony Wright who say they should be paid more for their vital role in saving lives at sea.

Mr Lamb said: “They have been badly left behind and have a legitimate case. Their levels of pay are unacceptable and it is impossible to justify them.”

If the MCGA does not consider new wage settlements for its operations staff then the union says further strikes will go ahead.

Peter Cardy, MCA chief executive, said: “I have made it very clear to the union that I want to keep talking about a longer term pay settlement to this dispute.

“Safety at seas is our key priority and I can reassure the public that an emergency response for those at risk will not be compromised by industrial action.”

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