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Union plan to disrupt Pope’s Scottish visit

Workers embroiled in a dispute with the agency running Glasgow’s museums and sports centres will step up their action by disrupting plans for the Pope’s visit next month.

Venues run by Glasgow Life hosting key clerical dignitaries would be the primary targets of planned action on the day, while one proposal being discussed by union leaders would see a banner attached to a Cessna aeroplane hired for the day that would claim the pontiff’s support for the striking workers.

The unions claim they plan to discuss the proposal for the aerial protest with the Civil Aviation Authority in the coming days to establish if there will be any airspace bans on September 16 when the Pope visits Scotland.

One union leader has even called on the Pope’s personal protectors, the Swiss Guard, “to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with striking Glasgow Life workers”.

However, sources at Glasgow Life, formerly Culture and Sport Glasgow, have described the plans as “expensive stunts to disrupt a papal Mass” that will not go down well with rank-and-file members.

The Palace of Art and Bellahouston Leisure Centre, both within the boundaries of Bellahouston Park where the Pope will deliver Mass to about 100,000 worshippers, will house hundreds of members of the clergy and other invited guests on the day.

The buildings are run by Glasgow Life and unions believe that by withdrawing labour they could throw the visit into turmoil.

The plans come as both sides in the dispute prepare to meet again and discuss whether to seek arbitration from conciliation service Acas.

The dispute has been running since the turn of the year and centres around the cancellation of overtime payments and a reduction in terms and conditions that is seeing the annual incomes of some low earners reduced by up to £2000.

Several Glasgow Life venues have shut in recent months, giving it a staff surplus, with the organisation claiming it faces a £10 million deficit in the coming years and that redundancies will be inevitable by 2011.

The unions involved in the dispute – Unison, GMB, Bectu and Unite – will meet with their members next week to discuss their plan of action, with a ballot for further strikes expected by the end of the month.

High-profile events already targeted include athletics events and the Glasgow Boys exhibition at Kelvingrove. Over the Glasgow Fair weekend, the unions succeeded in shutting Kelvingrove and several other high-profile venues for five days.

Martin Doran, of the GMB union, said the Pope’s Mass in Glasgow, which is expected to cost £1.5 million to stage, was being targeted to raise the profile of the industrial action and force the directors of Glasgow Life into talks.

He added: “I am very conscious that many of our members are practising Catholics, and I am a Catholic myself, but given the gravity of the situation and lack of a positive response to our overtures to bring this to an end there will be considerable support for this type of action.

“One way to bring attention to the dispute will be to attach a banner to a Cessna plane claiming the pontiff supports striking workers, and we’ll be speaking to the Civil Aviation Authority about this in the coming days.

“We are also making a cry for the Pope’s Swiss Guards to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with striking Glasgow Life workers on our picket lines.”

Brian Smith of Unison said he would be discussing a range of options with members, adding that the approach from the outset of the action was to target high- profile events.

A spokesman for Glasgow Life said: “Faced with the prospect of making cuts of £10.2m in the coming three years, we are working to protect jobs and services that the people of Glasgow rely on as far as possible.”

He also said the agency was positively considering collective mediation in an effort to resolve the dispute.

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