UNITE the union has confirmed that its members employed by the Northern Lighthouse Board (NLB) are to be balloted on strike action for the first time in a dispute over pay.

Around 30 unite members who maintain and operate Scotland’s lighthouses, beacons and buoys at sea, will take part in the ballot which opens on March 28 and closes on April 24.

Those being balloted include seamen, base assistants, cooks and technicians.

The union’s general secretary Sharon Graham said: “Unite’s members at the NLB provide vital, and at times, lifesaving work by assisting mariners to pass safely through Scottish waters.

“In recognition of this valuable work, all they are asking for is a fair pay offer similar to other workers providing a key public service.

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“Unite will back our NLB members all the way in their fight for better jobs, pay and conditions.”

According to Unite, the NLB has offered a 2% pay rise following a pay freeze last year, which amounts to a substantial real terms pay cut over two years.

The NLB claim it is bound by the Scottish Government’s public pay policy although Unite says that other disputes have been settled significantly above the official pay figure.

Unite industrial officer Alison Maclean added: “Unite’s NLB members deserve a pay offer which at the very least matches that of other workers providing a key public service.

“The current 2 per cent offer following a pay freeze last year is insulting when inflation has jumped to its highest rate in 45 years.

“If there is no revised pay offer then quite literally the beacons and buoys at sea could go out or remain faulty due to any strike action our members could take.

“This would present major safety issues for vessels passing through Scottish waters.”

The NLB’s main office is based in Edinburgh with technical operations being carried out in Oban.

The organisation maintains 208 lighthouses across some of the most remote areas of Scotland and has guided sea mariners for over two centuries.

Mike Bullock, NLB’s chief executive said: “The Northern Lighthouse Board is aware that members of Unite are being balloted for industrial action. 

"NLB’s most important asset is its team of around 200 mariners, engineers and specialist support staff and we do everything practicable to ensure our people are provided with the right conditions to ensure they can continue to deliver a vital safety service to Mariners.  

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"The financial pressure placed on individuals due to high inflation is fully appreciated, however, as an arm’s length body of the Department for Transport, NLB is bound entirely by UK Government pay policy.  

"The NLB pay offer is subject to formal review and approval at each step. The pay settlement has gone through an exhaustive approval process which leaves NLB with no room to manoeuvre.”