FERRY passengers travelling to and from Orkney and Shetland over the festive season are facing strike action by ferry crews.
• Rail Maritime and Transport union (RMT) vote overwhelmingly in favour of strike action following plans to cut 36 jobs on vital ferry links
• Action comes after employers Serco gave notice of intention to axe jobs
The Rail Maritime and Transport union (RMT) today announced that members, employed by Serco NorthLink, have voted by 95 voters to 13 in favour of industrial action in protest against the company’s plans to axe up to 36 jobs on the lifeline routes to the Northern Isles.
A spokesman for the RMT said:” Despite extensive meetings between Serco and RMT negotiators over possible restructuring, Serco have now abandoned any pretence of negotiation and RMT has received a copy of the company’s letter of formal intention from director level confirming plans to slash jobs with the threat of compulsory redundancies. It was that letter that triggered the ballot for action.
“As a result, RMT advised Serco NorthLink Ferries that a dispute situation exists, a ballot has now been concluded and the members have delivered a massive mandate for action. “
Bob Crow, the RMT General Secretary, said: “Serco are fully aware that we will not accept attacks on our members jobs and conditions and what is now an all-out attempt to bulldoze through redundancies, cuts to core staffing numbers and the casualisation of these skilled shipping grades. This ballot result, in the face of this deliberately provocative action, shows that our members are prepared to fight for their future livelihoods. The result will now be considered by the RMT executive.”
Steve Todd, the union’s national secretary, said: “This overwhelming result shows that RMT members will not stand back while jobs are sacrificed in the middle of this botched privatisation stitch-up. Staff on Northern Isles routes are threatened with the sack in the dash to maximise Serco’s profits and that is totally unacceptable.
“The public will understand that it is our members jobs today and will be cuts to services and increases to fares tomorrow. SERCO should withdraw this threat immediately and take up the offer of resuming talks through the proper consultation procedure as a way of resolving this dispute.”
Liam McArthur, the MSP for Orkney, and Tavish Scott, the MSP for Shetland, called on the Scottish Government to step in to help resolve the escalating dispute. Mr McArthur said: “These boats provide a lifeline for people in Orkney. The contract to provide these services was renewed this summer by the government subject to conditions set by Ministers. So the terms of the contract are the Scottish Government’s responsibility.
“Ministers cannot simply step back from this dispute. They must play their part in preventing industrial action, which would be immensely damaging to local people and the islands’ economy.”
Mr Scott said: “These boats provide Shetland’s lifeline shipping service. This is a Government funded contract which was renewed this summer. So the terms of the contract are the Scottish Government’s responsibility. Ministers must stop dragging their feet and now get involved to stop industrial action which would be immensely damaging to local people and the Islands’ economy.”
First Minister Alex Salmond said:: “The Government is aware of the possibility of industrial action, and it will do its utmost to avoid any such action, which would severely inconvenience people in the northern islands.”
Serco took over the Northern Isles routes in July from NorthLink, part of the government-owned firm that runs CalMac.