Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Freight and Passenger Services Under Threat as RoRo Ferry Dispute Continues

Three Unions at Odds with Council Management Over Pay
Shipping News Feature

UK – Island ferry services which are often the only way to maintain a civilised lifestyle on some hard to reach outposts are inevitably the source of enhanced acrimony when there is any form of problem which affects the natives existence. The lack of the regular RoRo or passenger ferry carrying vital freight and supplies from the mainland can cause serious problems for the stranded islanders ranging from medical emergencies to food shortages.

Never is this more keenly felt than during the winter months on the Scottish isles and today we hear that the problems which have beset the Orkney ferry service for the past two months seem no closer to resolution as professional mariners union Nautilus International tells us their members working for Orkney Ferries are continuing to work to rule as the owners continue to refuse to make what they consider a fair pay offer.

On the 13th February the company announced that members of the RMT union who form part of the crew aboard the Outer North Isles ferries would be taking industrial action involving an overtime ban and work to rule. The Nautilus union members voted to take action short of a strike in March saying ‘[they] did not want to stage a full walk-out as they understood the detrimental impact it would have on the population of Orkney who rely on their lifeline services’.

Three unions are actually involved in the dispute, Unite being the third, and whilst the Board of Orkney Ferries, which is owned by Orkney Islands Council, made a pay offer to members in March which included a 1% increase in pay, the unions dismissed it as a figure which would leave their members worse off when inflation was considered. The offer also included an increase within pay scales but this would only affect those members not already at the top of their pay scales.

The Council declared in the original negotiations that an increase in costs due to an increase in basic pay must be funded by ‘commensurate savings in other costs of employment’ insisting that was the only way rises could be financed, a position not accepted by the workforce which asked the council to consider a pay increase on or above RPI. Since the dispute commenced the Council has asked customers to be patient as staffing problems due to absences aggravated the difficulties of maintaining a three vessel service to the Outer North Isles. Ronnie Cunningham, Nautilus senior national organiser, said today:

“Our members have previously given up leave to cover for staff absences as Orkney Ferries cutbacks would have meant services would be cancelled without their help. But our members voted to end this goodwill when Orkney Ferries refused to show them any by refusing to offer an acceptable agreement on pay.

“All our members are asking for is for Orkney Ferries to grant them a pay deal that will maintain their standard of living, in recognition of the hard work and dedication they have shown the council. To offer an increase only to those members without long service is a further knock to those members who have served the people of Orkney and ensured that services kept sailing in the face of deep cuts to staffing levels.”

Photo: MV Varagen, one of the vessels affected in the dispute.

For the response to this article see the comment below from the Board of Orkney Ferries.