Monday, July 22, 2013

RoRo Freight and Passenger Ferry Services Will Continue to Go Slow Says Shipping Union

As Usual Inter Island Links Prove as Troublesome as Ever
Shipping News Feature

UK – Last Thursday (18 July) the shipping union RMT announced that the work to rule strategy which its members had employed in tandem with those from the Nautilus and Unite trades unions, was liable to escalate after its members rejected what it described as a ‘derisory’ pay offer in a secret ballot in the ongoing dispute with Orkney Ferries. The company provides RoRo freight and passenger inter-island services on nine routes between Orkney and thirteen island destinations. In what can only be described as a thinly veiled threat RMT General Secretary Bob Crow said:

“It is outrageous that Orkney Ferries have still failed to come up with a serious pay offer despite hours and hours of talks and despite the helpful intervention of ACAS in this dispute. They have now forced a stand-off through their sheer contempt towards their staff and the union will be discussing the next move which could, of course, include an escalation of the action in the busy summer months.”

The threat to summer services was reiterated by Steve Todd, RMT National Secretary who stated that further industrial action, in partnership with the other two unions involved, was being considered. Upon receipt of the news that all three labour representative organisations had rejected the company’s latest offer Councillor Graham Sinclair, Chair of Orkney Ferries, commented:

“We are very disappointed that union members among staff employed by Orkney Ferries have voted to turn down the offer. At a time of reduced funding and pay restraint, we made what we considered in the circumstances to be a generous offer. The offer included a one per cent increase in pay and met the Trade Unions’ requests for an extra week’s holiday.

“This dispute is about pay and, in our view, the offer should have brought this long-running dispute to an end. But because of the ballot results, the offer will now be withdrawn. Throughout this dispute our over-riding priority has been to maintain lifeline ferry services to the communities we serve. Everyone involved has worked tirelessly to keep ferries running. The overtime ban has resulted in disruption which at times has led to ferries being tied up because of the effects of industrial action. The ballot results will inevitably result in further disruption for our customers. We greatly regret this, but the offer was the best we could have made.”

On Friday the Board of Orkney Ferries met to discuss the new situation and decided to seek the involvement of ACAS in an effort to resolve the situation with Councillor Sinclair telling the Handy Shipping Guide that the Board's decision was being communicated to the unions and it hoped this would be seen as a positive step forward. The ferry service is owned and operated by the Orkney Islands Council with many services essential to island dwellers and therefore it could be argued that any increase in salaries is effectively coming from the public purse, an added pressure for the management.

Ferry services are of course regularly featured by the Handy Shipping Guide as an area where industrial relations are often under stress. Whether it be the saga of far flung Flinders Island or closer to home on the Isle of Man, these conflicts always seem to simmer for a considerable time and other similar Scottish services it seems are also causing concern to management and certain staff as Caledonian MacBrayne (Calmac) discuss potential wage changes with port and harbour staff.

Calmac operates a system of ferry links to twenty four Western Isle destinations and is trying to regularise payments to port and harbour staff which currently have built in pay differentials established over time. The diverse nature of anchorages in some of the most remote corners of Britain have engendered different wage scales and the company is now in ongoing negotiations to ensure all such staff receive equality of pay, bringing up those currently on lower grades at some harbours to match those of better off colleagues. Although apparently a noble gesture, those on higher rates of pay apparently see the changes effectively as a freeze on their own future emoluments thus discussions must continue.

Photo: The m.v. Thorsvoe courtesy Orkney Island Ferries.