Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Ferry Dispute Upsets Freight and Passenger Schedules

Industrial Action Halts Island Service
Shipping News Feature

UK – Industrial action over the Bank Holiday weekend brought misery to the Orkney Isles when disaffected ferry crew refused to take on extra duties leaving insufficient staff to man ships and bringing delays to freight and passenger services as scheduled sailings were cancelled. We wrote last month how the dispute between three unions and Orkney Ferries Ltd was continuing and the past few days the dispute apparently came to a head. Ronnie Cunningham, senior national organiser for the union of maritime professionals, Nautilus, said:

“Our members repeatedly warned that without their goodwill Orkney Island Ferries would be unable to operate. This bank holiday weekend the inevitable happened when ferries had to be cancelled as staff refused to take on additional duties to cover crew shortages. Our members felt that they had no option but to vote to end the goodwill that has previously kept the service afloat just as Orkney Council have refused to show them any goodwill by refusing to negotiate an acceptable agreement on pay. We can only hope that this disruption to service highlights how much the Council relies on our members and forces them to enter into meaningful negotiations and offer an acceptable level of pay.”

Nautilus members voted to take action short of a strike in March, which means that they only work to the terms of their contracts and are not available for overtime or additional working to cover members of staff who may be sick or taking their contractual leave allocation. Union members had previously told the council that they did not want to stage a full walk-out because of the detrimental impact there would be if islanders lost their lifeline services, but warned that it was only their goodwill that had kept the ferries operating whilst the council inflicted swingeing cuts to staffing levels.

Orkney Ferries, which is owned by Orkney Islands Council, has tried to reduce costs in line with other local authorities which are all facing cuts and reducing services accordingly. The council has insisted that an increase in costs due to an increase in basic pay to ferry staff must be funded by commensurate savings in other costs of employment and offered a 1% increase but the unions say this is unacceptable as it is less than the rise in the retail price index and that the maritime sector is a special case as the Council will be unable to recruit suitable staff if the current workforce leaves.

Photo: Nautilus International members in front of the tied-up Earl Thorfinn which was unable to sail this weekend due to a lack of crew.