Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Row Brews Over Vital Freight and Passenger Ferry Services to Offshore Islands

Union Accusations That Crews Are Paid Below Minimum Wage Levels - Again
Shipping News Feature
UK – Offshore island freight and passenger ferry services have been witness to some spectacular disagreements over the years, and some of the fiercest concern arguments with regard to the Scottish island services, like all such services, a vital lifeline for those living and working off the mainland. Now another row has broken out after the Scottish government drafted in an extra vessel onto the Northern Isles RoRo ferry service to meet short term freight capacity. Announcing the decision Scottish Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands, Paul Wheelhouse said:

”The Scottish Government fully recognises the recent concerns which have been raised about the freight capacity needs for the Northern Isles, and that services periodically do not meet the particular time-sensitive needs of hauliers and freight customers in key sectors like aquaculture and livestock.

"We have been working hard to address those issues, and I am pleased that the temporary charter of an additional third vessel, the MV Arrow has been secured which will begin service this weekend. I look forward to the vessel being in service, the extra freighter will provide additional capacity and resilience to the Serco Northlink Ferries fleet helping ensure timely delivery of key stock like salmon to our European markets, whilst crucially supporting both the local and national economy."

The Northern Isles ferry routes, currently operated by Serco NorthLink, are publicly subsidised and the latest addition to the service is the MV Arrow belonging to Seatruck, called by the union RMT whose members staff the current services, a ‘low-cost operator’. The two have a history and RMT General Secretary, Mick Cash explains his union’s position thus:

“When the Scottish Government stripped Seatruck of crewing responsibilities on the NIFS freighters Helliar and Hildasay in March 2017, the Minister at the time, Humza Yousaf told Parliament that crew on the two ships ‘….are now paid at least the UK National Minimum Wage.’ The decision to charter from Seatruck goes against the Scottish Government’s own policy of ‘fair work’ in public contracts, including sub-contractors.

“The Scottish Government wouldn’t permit temporary contracts paying below the National Minimum Wage between two train stations, so why do they consider this an acceptable practice between two Scottish ports?

“Yes, the UK Government has ultimate responsibility for the NMW but the Scottish Government should not be pitting the needs of the local seafood and livestock industries against those of seafarers, particularly those in North East Scotland who have lost their jobs due to the downturn in the offshore oil and gas industry.

“The Scottish Government must correct this retrograde step in the specifications for the next NIFS contract and RMT look forward to helping them do that.”

In February 2017 International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) Inspectors visited Seatruck and their findings confirmed a company-wide crewing model which set basic pay for seafarer Ratings at £3.78 per hour. The interim findings of the Scottish Government’s Ferry Law Review, announced 20 December 2017, recommended an 18-month extension to Serco NorthLink’s existing NIFS contract, to October 2019. In May it announced that it would be putting the next NIFS contract out to tender. No draft invitation to tender documents have been published to date.