Wednesday, June 17, 2015

RoRo Freight and Passenger Ferry Staff Instructed to Strike Whilst Uncertainty Over Services Persist

RMT Union Instructs Members Not to Turn Up for Work
Shipping News Feature

UK – Once again there are labour problems brewing centring on the key lifeline services provided by Ro/Ro freight and passenger ferries which ply between the Scottish mainland and the offshore islands. The RMT union has called for stoppages over the threatened takeover of the Clyde and Hebrides service after over 90% of eligible members voted for industrial action in a ballot that covered both strikes, and action short of strikes.

The services, currently run by the publicly owned Caledonian MacBrayne group, are being tendered for by both the incumbent operator and Serco, rumoured bids from P&O Ferries and Stena Line seemingly having come to nothing. The prelude to this story illustrates that the concerns of the union in this case may be well founded.

The tale of the Scottish island ferry services over the past decade or so makes for some complicated reading. To avoid transgressing European Commission anti-monopoly rules the previously subsidised Caledonian MacBrayne, which had by then become the property of the Scottish Government, sold all its assets, including ships and harbours, to another outfit, Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited (CMAL). In 2006 Caledonian MacBrayne became a subsidiary of David MacBrayne, owned in turn by the Scottish Government and then formed CalMac which successfully bid for the Clyde and Hebrides service.

In the same year ferry services between mainland Scotland and the Northern Isles of Orkney and Shetland went out to tender after legal wrangles dating back three years. Caledonian MacBrayne bid successfully and formed Northlink Ferries which subsequently was sold to the Serco Group in 2012 when the outsourcing specialist successfully lodged a lower tender for the routes, again after yet more legal shenanigans.

The Serco run service has been subject to several problems, not least when one of the vessels, MV Hamnavoe, broke a crankshaft in 2013 throwing schedules into chaos and leading to an unsuccessful appeal to CMAL for the rental of a substitute vessel. Rumours also circulated widely that whilst Calmac would maintain the vital island services no matter the level of use, Serco withdrew sailings when insufficient revenue by way of passengers were booked on certain sailings.

The current mood of the RMT is governed by the controversy which it says Serco has courted in the past. When Serco took over the Northlink vessels it ran into criticism over its cutting of officers’ pension policies from the Nautilus union, a tale covered comprehensively in the Bella Caledonia blogsite. Now the RMT have sworn to withdraw labour whilst the present uncertainty over jobs remains. General Secretary Mick Cash was unequivocal in his criticism of the situation, saying:

"RMT members on CalMac rightly feel that they are caught in the crossfire of an unnecessary and damaging tendering battle that leaves jobs, conditions and pensions hanging by a thread. That is simply intolerable. As a result of the failure to give staff the most basic assurances we are now using the massive mandate secured in the ballot and confirming a programme of industrial action. RMT wants cast iron assurances and we want them now and we are prepar‎ed to engage in meaningful talks around that agenda as we prepare for the first phase of industrial action."

Currently the instructions to RMT members are not to ‘turn to’ (book on) for any duty that commences between 00:01 hours and 23:59 hours on Friday 26th June 2015 and to take discontinuous industrial action in the form of an overtime and call back ban between 00:01 hours on Wednesday 24th June and 23:59 hours on Thursday 25th June 2015.