Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Maritime Union Calls for Nationalisation of Orkney and Shetland RoRo Freight and Passenger Ferries   

Vital Lifeline Scottish Island Services Examined for Second Time in a Year

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Shipping News Feature UK – For the second time this week we hear that the Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers Union (RMT) is raising the case of another British RoRo ferry service as it calls for the nationalisation of the lifeline routes which service the Shetland Isles. Whereas the previous story told how the union is protesting the wages paid to employees of Condor Ferries, this time it is Serco owned Northlink Ferries, which carries freight and passengers from Scottish ports Scrabster and Aberdeen to Stromness and Kirkwall on the Orkney Isles and Lerwick on Shetland, which is the target.

In May last year rival operator CalMac won the right to retain the Clyde and Hebridean services after an acrimonious dispute with Serco, a fight which saw the unions involved highlighting the previous failures of the global public services group which has interests ranging from prisons and defence to health and catering. The decision followed the RMT’s publication of a report it had commissioned, ‘The Economic Benefits of Public Sector Ferry Provision’ and which once again has relevance in this current scenario.

The RMT is holding a public meeting on Shetland to debate the matter on Friday 16 March, from 19:00 at Shetland Hotel (St. Catherine Suite South), Holmsgarth Road, Lerwick, ZE1 0PW, to give islanders the chance to listen to the union’s case. The meeting comes as the Scottish Government is shortly to decide whether it will put the next contract for Northern Isles Ferry Services (NIFS) out to tender or not.

In December Minister for Transport & The Islands, Humza Yousaf told MSPs that the legal case for bringing the Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Services contract permanently in-house is strong but that opposition to David MacBrayne (Caledonian MacBrayne own CalMac) makes it harder for the Scottish Government to bring the NIFS contract in-house. The RMT claims that under Serco ownership the incumbent operator has seen a decline in performance, passenger numbers and freight movements whilst receiving a significantly higher subsidy compared to the previous operator.

Current contract holders Serco NorthLink received a 10% increase in subsidy and no taxpayer clawback to operate the 2012-18 contract. Yet the RMT claims fewer passengers and vehicles are being carried, and reliability and punctuality are below the standard set by the previous operator, David MacBrayne. In 2016, the fleet of 5 vessels carried over 300,000 passengers and over 60,000 vehicles on the three routes.

The RMT also believes that the NIFS contract should be re-drawn by Transport Scotland to include inter-island services currently funded and provided by Shetland Islands Council. In its view, the NIFS contract offers the best long-term solution to the funding gap which it says has blighted inter-island services for years. Steve Todd, RMT National Secretary commented:

“Northern Isles communities deserve lower fares, more frequent sailings and improved on-board services, on properly staffed and funded vessels. We believe a growing and more reliable service can only be achieved through public ownership and operation.”

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