COASTGUARD volunteers in Helensburgh should be duly recognized as paid employees of the UK government, according to a union.
GMB Scotland is calling on the state to ‘value and properly recognize’ the work of nearly 3,000 volunteer rescue workers at more than 300 stations across the UK, including at Helensburgh base in Rhu Marina.
The union said it was “ready to advocate for justice for these brave men and women”, 134 of whom operate in the interior of Clyde at River Tay and in the border area of eastern Scotland which covers Helensburgh and Lomond.
The Coast Guard Rescue Service is part of HM Coastguard – the emergency response arm of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) – and is made up of volunteers who are not paid but who can claim certain expenses.
Volunteer rescuers may be called in at any time of the day or night and may be required to work in dangerous situations for long hours.
Gary Smith, GMB Scotland Secretary, said: “These 2,800 brave men and women who work in all weather to save people and save lives are denied even the most basic rights of respect and recognition by their employer. HM Coastguard.
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“Staff with more than 30 years of experience are made redundant without the fundamental right to be represented by their union.
“HM Coastguard rescuers risk their lives to help and save others, but are treated worse than any other government employee.
“Urgent action must be taken to show respect to these unsung heroes. ”
Coast Guard duties include assisting people trapped on the coast on cliffs, stuck in mud or water, searching for missing persons, reporting and managing pollution and other hazards, and assist emergency services and local authorities in an emergency such as flooding.
Volunteer members of the Helensburgh team have witnessed over 90 incidents in 2020, and the MCA says they are “incredibly proud” of everyone involved in the service.
Coast Guard chief Peter Mizen said he “does not recognize the situation described” by the union, saying the majority wish in the service is to remain voluntary.
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He said: “Our officers are all volunteers living and serving in their communities across the UK.
“In the past, they have made it clear that they prefer not to lose their voluntary status; in fact, if they did, many could not be part of the service.
“I meet regularly with Coast Guard Rescue Officers and chair the Coast Guard Rescue Services Advisory Group, which is made up of volunteer representatives from across the UK. The general consensus is that they want the Coast Guard Rescue Service to remain voluntary.
“These courageous and selfless individuals are on duty all day and give their time freely to respond to life and death situations, as well as to conduct security patrols on busy beaches and coasts.
“We have total respect for all voluntary organizations across the UK and we recognize and honor our Coast Guard Rescue Officers for their service.
“They regularly receive awards for their long service and the awards from my own Coast Guard leader for their individual and team bravery. We also regularly appoint service members to the Queen’s Honors List.
“As a voluntary organization, the Coast Guard Rescue Service has a code of conduct and a code of practice that defines its values and processes. ”