Support for Coastguard strike

Stephen Pullinger As Yarmouth coastguards walked out on their second 24-hour strike over pay they were buoyed by strong support from East coast fishermen.

Stephen Pullinger

As Yarmouth coastguards walked out yesterday on their second 24-hour strike over pay they were buoyed by strong support from East coast fishermen.

From 8am, only a skeleton staff of non-union members were left in the control room at Havenbridge House as members of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCSU) manned a picket outside.

But despite the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCSA) again expressing regret at the national action, fishermen from Lowestoft and Yarmouth were quick to voice support.

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John Knights, who has operated his 10m fishing boat out of Lowestoft for the past 15 years, said: “If it were not for the coastguards I would not be here.

“I have broken down several times and they have come and got me and on one occasion several years ago it happened in a Force 10 storm.

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“The lifeboat was bent on its side when it rescued me and if it was not for that man on the phone co-ordinating everything I dread to think what would have happened - they even organised for a dredger to come and sit beside me to provide lee before the lifeboat got there.”

He said he could not believe some coastguards received just a penny over the minimum wage and that they were not treated in the same way as other emergency services. “They are always there to help you,” he said.

Richard Clarke, who operates the last full-time fishing boat out of Yarmouth with his brother Jason, said it was an uneasy feeling taking to sea knowing the coastguards would not be operating their normal service, but he said they had his “100pc backing” because their pay disparity was not a good situation.

Yarmouth coastguard spokesman Peter Wheeler said they had been heartened by fantastic backing from coastwatch volunteers and the general public as well local fishermen.

And national PCSU negotiation officer Paul Smith reported that the action had been well supported across the country with half the coastguard stations being forced to close.

He said: “The other half are being operated by non-union members, many of whom are unfamiliar with the operations room. I have been speaking to members from stations across the country from Holyhead to Brixham and they have all reported great sympathy from the public who can't believe their levels of pay.”

Mr Smith said they were planning a further day of action from 7pm on April 23 but in the meantime were doing everything they could to find a solution.

He said: “I have written to ministers and we are prepared to look at long-term pay deals, indeed anything they want to put on the table as long as they recognise the pay gap and look to fill that gap.”

An MCSA spokesman expressed regret that a second strike had been called but gave a public assurance that contingency plans were in place and that they were responding to all emergencies.

He said: “We have begun talking to the PCSU and hope to continue to do so, in particular around pay, but any discussions have to be within the confines of the government's public sector pay policy.

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