THE operators of the lifeline ferry services to the Northern Isles today expressed their “dismay and surprise” at plans for a ferry workers strike in the run up to the festive season.
Members of the RMT union on the Aberdeen-Orkney-Shetland routes, operated by Serco NorthLink Ferries, announced yesterday that they will strike in protest against job cuts on December 16, 23 and 30 in a major blow for islanders heading home for Christmas.
Stuart Garrett, managing director of Serco NorthLink, said: “Serco NorthLink Ferries was advised of proposed strike dates by the RMT yesterday after trying to make contact with them several times over the last week. Therefore we are dismayed and surprised at this announcement.
“We notified the staff of our proposals to tailor crew numbers to passenger demand as early as June and began formal consultations in mid-October. As we informed the unions at a meeting on 13 November there would be no requirement for compulsory redundancies. We therefore fail to understand why the RMT is continuing with industrial action.”
He continued: “Thirty-six employees have applied for voluntary redundancy and are already starting to leave the business. They will receive an enhanced redundancy package which significantly exceeds the statutory requirements.
“We continue to offer very favourable terms and conditions, including commitment to a three year pay deal that commenced last year. This deal saw all seafaring staff receive a 4.25 per cent per cent pay rise this year, nearly double the rate of inflation and they will receive the same next year.”
Mr Garrett claimed: “The staffing changes proposed will actually have a positive impact locally due to the requirement for more seasonal and temporary labour. I am confident that we will actually employ more local people.”
And he vowed: “If the RMT insists on proceeding with this industrial action, we will be looking to maintain as many services as possible to minimise disruption to the public, particularly given the difficulties this action could cause to people’s travel plans over the festive period.”
Bob Crow, the RMT general secretary, declared: “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 cuts to core staffing numbers and the casualisation of these skilled shipping grades with ad-hoc agency arrangements and de-facto zero hours contracts.
This strike action, in the face of this deliberately provocative action, shows that our members are prepared to fight for their future livelihoods and instead of issuing provocative and misleading press statements Serco should get round the table and resolve this sensibly.”
Steve Todd, the union’s national secretary, said: “RMT members have shown that they will not stand back while jobs are sacrificed in the middle of this botched privatisation stitch-up. Staff are now stuck in the middle of a row between the Scottish Government and Serco as to who is responsible for this shambles.
Bottom line is staff on Northern Isles routes are threatened in the dash to maximise Serco’s profits and that is totally unacceptable. This dispute can be resolved by Serco simply playing fair by the staff who generate their profits and the ball is now firmly in their court.”