The The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) is planning to ballot its seafarer and port members, including those working in Fishguard, on possible strike action over its claims that the company has ‘downgraded’ its sick leave policy.

“A company sick pay scheme, agreed with the recognised trade unions, was in place for seafarers and port workers at Stena Line until the start of the pandemic when the employer unilaterally scrapped it, forcing staff infected with, or displaying symptoms of, coronavirus to rely on Statutory Sick Pay,” said a statement from the RMT.

However as spokeman for Stena Line has said: “Whilst Stena Line is fully respectful of the rights of all unions to represent their members as they see fit, it is nonetheless very disappointed that the RMT Seafarers' Union has called for a ballot of its members, which includes the option of strike action, in relation to proposed changes to Stena Line’s company sick pay scheme.

"Their decision to call for a ballot of members is all the more disappointing given the fact that a number of other trade unions have recommended that their members accept the new proposals, which also includes additional special provisions to assist employees affected by Covid-19.”

The RMT’s general secretary, Mick Cash accuses Stena Line of taking ‘an outrageous risk with our members’ health at the start of this pandemic by scrapping the union-agreed sick pay scheme.'

“Care is one of the core principles of the Stena Line brand but this was completely contradicted when our members needed support the most, forcing key workers to decide between illness or poverty,” he claims.

“We are now asking our members whether they are prepared to take industrial action on Stena Line ships and in Stena Line ports in order to restore a decent, union-agreed sick pay scheme. Our members have been patient and battled through the pandemic at great personal cost to keep the company afloat and Stena Line needs to recognise that ahead of an expected recovery in passenger numbers.”

But Stena Line has hit back saying: "Stena Line has been in detailed consultation with all of the relevant trade unions involved over the last 12 months and has sought to develop a comprehensive company sick pay scheme, which is both equitable and sustainable for the long-term viability of its UK business.

"The need for establishing a sustainable scheme has been brought into sharp focus over the last 12 months during which time the company has had to deal with the unprecedented combined challenges of the pandemic and Brexit disruptions.

"These factors resulted in the company suffering significant financial losses. "Despite this Stena Line has continued operate vital supply lines across the Irish Sea and North Sea, and the company is now doing all it can to help protect the future employment of its workforce.

“Stena Line has given a commitment to review its current proposal when its financial trading position improves and would urge the RMT Seafarers Union to work alongside the other unions and remove the threat of possible strike action just at a time when the company is working hard to prepare for the possibility of a return to much needed increased levels of leisure travel in the months ahead."

The company has also dismissed the union’s claims that it was only after there were two outbreaks of Covid-19 on Stena Line ships during the pandemic that the company agreed to get back around the table to discuss a new sick pay scheme and is now refusing to budge on proposals that are ‘inferior’ to the scheme they scrapped.

The company's spokesperson said: "Stena Line made a presentation on the new company sick pay proposals to the RMT, and the other unions, on October 8, 2020, before any Covid-19 outbreak on a vessel. The claim by the RMT, in trying to link the issue to the small number of outbreaks by indicating that the company never approached them about the new sick pay proposals until after the outbreaks, is factually incorrect."