Northern Lighthouse Board balloted in dispute over real terms pay cut

Unite the union confirmed that its members employed by the Northern Lighthouse Board (NLB) who maintain and operate Scotland’s lighthouses, beacons and buoys at sea are in a historic first to be balloted on strike action in a dispute over pay.

Around 30 Unite members including able seamen, base assistants, cooks and technicians will take part in the ballot which opens today (28 March) and closes on 24 April.

Unite members provide vital maintenance and operational support for lighthouses, beacons and buoys at sea ensuring that vessels and ships have safe passage through Scottish waters.

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

The NLB has offered 2 per cent following a pay freeze last year, which amounts to a substantial real terms pay cut over two years. The broader cost of living (RPI) currently stands at 13.8 per cent. The NLB similarly to Marine Scotland and Highlands and Islands Airport Limited claim that it is bound by the Scottish Government’s public pay policy, yet both these disputes were 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 main office is based in Edinburgh with technical operations being carried out in Oban where there are maintenance workshops and facilities for the construction of beacons and buoys. NLB technicians are also based in Inverness, Shetland and Orkney. The NLB’s has two vessels based in Oban: NLV PHAROS and NLV POLE STAR.

The NLB maintain 208 lighthouses across Scotland and the Isle of Man. The lighthouses are situated in some of the most remote and beautiful locations in Scotland, and guided sea mariners for over two centuries.


Notes to editors:

  • A pay award floor of 2 per cent for 2023-24 has been set by the Scottish Government with a central target of 3.5 per cent, and a ceiling of 5 per cent as part of the public sector pay strategy 2023 to 2024.
  • Unite Scotland is the country’s biggest and most diverse trade union with around 150,000 members. The union is led in Scotland by Pat Rafferty.