SCOTTISH ferry strikes have been suspended as a “gesture of goodwill” to island communities, a union leader has announced.
• Industrial action had been planned for December 23 and 30, causing disruption over festive period
• ‘Significant progress made’ according to general secretary of the RMT Bob Crow
• Lib Dem MSP Liam McArthur: “Whatever issues remain to be resolved between Serco Northlink and the unions can now be settled through dialogue.”
Industrial action was planned on the Orkney-Scrabster service and Shetland-Aberdeen service on December 23 and 30, causing disruption over the festive period.
Staff walked out on Friday because of a dispute with ferry operator Serco, a multinational outsourcing firm, saying that jobs are under threat from cuts.
Bob Crow, general secretary of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT), said significant progress had been made.
“Our members support in this campaign was clearly demonstrated on Friday by the stoppage on the Norlink ships,” he said.
“However, we have kept a dialogue going with the company and our members are also conscious of the affect that the action is having on island communities and in particular at this time of the year.
“We have now been able to make significant progress in discussions with Serco. We have asked the company for a number of assurances which have been met and in effort to make progress and as a gesture of goodwill to the island communities we have agreed to a suspension of all action to allow further discussions to take place.
“If we can’t make sufficient progress in those talks we will have no hesitation in issuing notice of our intent to take action again immediately.”
The union is also in dispute with train operator ScotRail.
RMT members plan to strike on December 22 and Christmas Eve.
The action is in support of former ticket inspector Scott Lewis who was dismissed after an incident over the type of ticket used by a member of the public.
Island politicians welcomed the suspension.
Orkney Liberal Democrat MSP Liam McArthur said: “After weeks of uncertainty and the disruption last Friday, I am delighted that the threat of further strike action over the Christmas period has now been lifted.
“Whatever issues remain to be resolved between Serco Northlink and the unions can now be settled through dialogue. This is entirely appropriate, but should be done without penalising islanders and local businesses who rely on these lifeline services.”
Shetland Lib Dem MSP Tavish Scott said: “This shipping strike should not have happened. Islanders need their lifeline service. Local businesses need to export and imports for Shetland and the oil industry are essential for the economy. This cost local people time, money and inconvenience. Shetland has no alternative shipping service so a strike should never be undertaken lightly.
“I trust the union will now put the needs of the Islands at the top of their list of calculations for the future. This industrial action seems to be linked to Scotrail and the Scottish Government’s tendering of the Hebrides ferry services. Neither are connected to the Northern Isles so why our Islands should be held to ransom is quite beyond me.”