Wightlink Workers Confirm Strike Action

Staff working on the ferry route between the Isle of Wight and the mainland are to strike on Christmas Eve and Boxing Day in a row over the sacking of a union official.

The Rail Maritime and Transport union said over 170 of its members at Wightlink's Portsmouth to Isle of Wight route will walk out in support of union rep Paul Kelly.

The crews will not work any overtime or rest days from Christmas Eve until further notice.

The RMT claimed the company had responded to the strike announcement by laying off all staff for the two strike days because it was unable to run its normal business.

RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: ''Paul Kelly's case is one of the most blatant examples of victimisation for union activities you will ever come across. RMT members have voted overwhelmingly for action in support of their colleague and management should take note of that strength of feeling.

''Once again RMT finds itself having to defend an elected and accredited union representative, whose only real crime is to fight for the members he represents, regularly challenging the company and ensuring all agreements are followed correctly.

''The events leading up to our member's dismissal appear farcical, with informal advice suddenly escalated to dismissal, and clearly show an employer jumping at the opportunity to remove an effective representative.

''RMT remains available for talks and we will continue to pursue all channels to obtain justice in Paul Kelly's case.''

The company said: ''Wightlink is acutely aware of the effect a strike on 24 and 26 December will have on our customers. We deeply regret that the RMT feel that the protection of a trade union representative who was a senior engineer, who was expected to set an example, comes before both the safe working procedures, which the union have done much to promote, and the needs of the customers on whom all employees' livelihoods depend.

''On this occasion the company feels that the breach of safety procedures by a senior member of staff is something on which it cannot compromise. Safety procedures are vital both to the safe operation of our vessels and to the safety of passengers and crew, and the company considers that to demonstrate such a blase attitude in full view of both passengers and crew is unacceptable.

''As a lifeline service provider to the residents and visitors to the Isle of Wight, our primary aim is to ensure we provide a level of service which meets the demand of our customers. We have fully considered the options open to us in making sure we do everything possible to get our customers to their destinations, particularly over the Christmas period.

''Wightlink have put in place contingency plans with our competitors to ensure a level of service for our customers which will try to minimise disruption to their travel arrangements, as the company appreciate that this is a time of the year when many of our customers will be visiting family, friends and loved ones.''