COASTGUARD volunteers in Helensburgh should be properly recognised as paid employees of the UK Government, according to a trade union.

GMB Scotland is calling on the state to “properly value and recognise” the work of almost 3,000 rescue volunteers at more than 300 stations throughout the UK, including at the Helensburgh base at Rhu Marina.

The union said it is “prepared to litigate to obtain justice for these brave men and women”, 134 of whom operate in the inner Clyde to River Tay and east Scottish border area which covers Helensburgh and Lomond.

The Coastguard 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 unpaid but are able to claim some expenses.

Volunteer rescue officers can be called out at any time of the day or night and may have to work in hazardous situations for long hours.

Gary Smith, GMB Scotland’s secretary, said: “These 2,800 brave men and women who work in all weathers to rescue people and save lives are denied even the most basic rights of respect and recognition by their employer HM Coastguard.

READ MORE: Water safety plea after four call-outs in a week for Helensburgh RNLI

“Staff with over 30 years’ experience are being axed without the basic right of being represented by their union.

“The HM Coastguard rescue workers risk their lives to help and save others but are treated worse than any other government worker.

“Urgent action needs to be taken to show respect for these unsung heroes.”

Coastguard workers’ duties include helping rescue people trapped on the coast on cliffs, stuck in mud or in the water, searching for missing people, reporting and dealing with pollution and other hazards and helping emergency services and local authorities during emergencies like flooding.

The volunteer members of the Helensburgh team attended more than 90 incidents during 2020, and the MCA says it is “incredibly proud” of all those involved with the service.

Chief Coastguard Peter Mizen said he did “not recognise the situation being described” by the trade union, stating that the majority wish within the service is to remain voluntary.

READ MORE: Gowns down: local lawyers join court boycott in funds dispute

He said: “Our officers are all volunteers living and serving in their communities right across the UK.

“In the past they have made it clear that they would prefer not to lose their voluntary status; in fact, if they did, many would be unable to be part of the service.

“I regularly meet with Coastguard rescue officers and I chair the Coastguard rescue service consultation group which is made up of serving volunteer representatives from all over the UK. The general consensus is that they want the Coastguard rescue service to remain voluntary.

“These brave and selfless individuals are on call all day every day and give up their time freely to respond in life and death situations as well as carrying out safety patrols on busy beaches and coastlines.

“We have total respect for all voluntary organisations across the UK and we do recognise and honour our Coastguard rescue officers for their service.

“They regularly receive awards from long service to my own Chief Coastguard’s awards for individual and team bravery. We also regularly nominate members of the service for the Queen’s Honours list.

“As a voluntary organisation, the Coastguard rescue service has a code of conduct and code of practice that sets out its values and processes.”