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Coastguards strike

PUBLISHED: 13:17 06 March 2008 | UPDATED: 10:33 03 July 2010

STRIKE: Coastguards on strike outside Havenbridge House, Yarmouth.

STRIKE: Coastguards on strike outside Havenbridge House, Yarmouth.

COASTGUARDS in Great Yarmouth were among 700 striking workers across the country who staged their first 24-hour strike today in a campaign to improve wages.

COASTGUARDS in Great Yarmouth were among 700 striking workers across the country who staged their first 24-hour strike today in a campaign to improve wages.

Six watch staff based at Havenbridge House manned the picket, while the rest of the 23-strong Yarmouth crew were supportive of the national stoppage, which affected 19 search and rescue co-ordination centres across the UK. Two Yarmouth striking watch officers were on call to cover emergency calls only.

The coastguards are calling for an increase in the current annual £14,000 salary to bring the profession in line with other emergency call centre staff.

Jason Jones, 23, has to live with his parents in Hopton, despite having a daughter to clothe and feed, because his monthly pay with the watch-keeping staff leaves him with £1,000 after tax, not enough to cover a mortgage or the £400-a-month rent

he would have to pay for a flat or house.

He said: “The pay is disgraceful when compared to the wages of any other profession. It is shocking that we are responsible for the safety of hundreds of thousands of lives when you consider all the vessels going through UK waters and there are guys out there who are paid less than people working in fast food chains.”

Andy Smith, 29, gave up a career working in communications with the Royal Navy to become a watch assistant because he wanted to live closer to his Lowestoft home, but now fears he will have to move on again because he is not earning enough to be able to start a family.

Peter Wheeler, representative of the Public and Commercial Services Union, said watch staff had to go through a more intensive training programme than other emergency call centre staff over a period of nine months, including stints at the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) training centre in Highcliffe in Dorset, culminating in rigorous exams.

Watch staff do not just have to

co-ordinate the rescues of stranded sailors and divers, but also ensure vessels meet health and safety and environmental protection standards. They need to be skilled in dealing with navigational equipment and reading weather maps, as well as dealing with other emergency services on rescues.

Mr Wheeler said last year the Yarmouth coastguard answered 1,105 calls during their 12-hour shifts, which vary between the winter and summer months, when up to 20 calls can be received during a busy day.

“To have a national emergency service where the staff are paid below the minimum wage is disgraceful,” Mr Wheeler added.

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