CalMac strike called off after Holyrood assurances

CalMac services were due to be dramatically reduced on Friday. Picture: John Devlin
CalMac services were due to be dramatically reduced on Friday. Picture: John Devlin
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A STRIKE set to cripple west coast ferry services on Friday has been called off.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon became “personally involved” in the dispute, a union leader has said.

Members of the RMT within Caledonian MacBrayne and Argyll Ferries were preparing to hold a 24-hour strike.

The union called off the action late on Wednesday after three days of talks.

Gordon Martin, of the RMT, said the government had given assurances that workers’ demands would be looked at.

The dispute was triggered by the tendering of the contract for CalMac’s Clyde and Hebrides ferry routes.

Just nine of CalMac’s 27 routes were to be operational if the strike had gone ahead

The Scottish government has agreed to delay the tendering process, but not the start of the new contract, to allow further negotiation on the key issues of jobs, staffing, conditions and pensions.

Mr Martin, the union’s regional organiser, said that the dispute should have been resolved much earlier.

He said: “The First minister has personally got involved and we have received assurances that the reasonable demands that we are looking for to protect our members - job security, pensions, terms and conditions - will be favourably looked at.

“The invitation to tender will now not be published on Friday and will be delayed to the end of July and that gives everybody a bit of breathing space to reach a reasonable resolution to this ongoing issue.”

A timetable has been agreed for discussions to be concluded by July 24.

Transport and Islands Minister Derek MacKay said the involvement of the first minister was not a sign that the situation had been handled badly by the government, but “surely a good thing”.

Like CalMac, Argyll Ferries is owned by the state-owned David MacBrayne Group.

CalMac’s contract to run Clyde and Hebrides ferry services comes to an end next year.

The Scottish government put the contract out to tender, in line with European rules.

Private company Serco - which already runs the Northern Ferries routes to Orkney and Shetland - is competing against CalMac for the contract.

Unions are concerned that, regardless of who wins, the new contract will see changes in employees’ current terms and conditions, with a reduction in staff numbers and pensions also among the key areas of concern.

The RMT has asked that the government guarantees in the new contract that compulsory redundancies do not happen and existing terms and conditions are continued.

Tourism operators in the Outer Hebrides said the islands had suffered “reputational damage” from the action and have called for compensation.

Last month a one-day strike - the culmination of three days of action - resulted in only nine routes operating and a big backlog of traffic that took days to clear.

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