Rescue centres close as Coastguard staff strike

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The Independent Online

The first-ever strike by coastguards led to the closure of rescue centres across the country today.

Staff at the Maritime and Coastguard Agency mounted picket lines outside the centres as part of a protest against low pay.

Around half the UK's 19 rescue centres were closed and management were drafted in to other sites to handle emergency and Mayday calls.

Up to 700 members of the Public and Commercial Services Union took part in the strike which followed a vote in favour of the action in protest at the low inflation wage rises in recent years.

The union said pay levels at the agency were "way below" those in other emergency services leaving staff "furious" over their wage levels.

The union claimed that many workers at the agency, including coastguard watch assistants, only earned the national minimum wage.

Pay rises last year averaged 2.5 per cent but starting salaries were just over £12,000, according to the union.

General secretary Mark Serwotka said staff had not taken today's action lightly, adding: "They feel let down and betrayed by a refusal to pay them the same as other emergency services."

The agency said contingency plans were put in place which meant that emergency response for those at risk would not be compromised.

Chief executive Peter Cardy said communications will continue to work and emergency calls will still get through.

The strike involved staff who co-ordinate search and rescue operations, answer emergency calls and issue warnings of any hazards but the crews of coastguard vessels are not affected.