Orkney Ferries face disruption over strike threat

Orkney Ferries vessels in Kirkwall harbour. Picture: Donald MacLeod
Orkney Ferries vessels in Kirkwall harbour. Picture: Donald MacLeod
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Orkney’s inter-island ferry service faces massive disruption with the threat of strike action over the summer after pay talks broke down.

• Union chiefs warned of an escalation of the current action

• Orkney Ferries service nine routes between Orkney and 13 island destinations.

Shipping union RMT has claimed management at Orkney Ferries, run by the local authority, is treating its workforce with “complete contempt”.

Union chiefs warned that the “arrogant and bullying attitude of the company” could force an escalation of the current action.

They claim that, despite repeated attempts by union representatives to negotiate a settlement to the dispute, which currently involves action short of a strike by RMT members, the matter could soon come to a ballot on strike action.

The RMT, in a statement, said: “The Orkney Ferries management wrote to the recognised unions refusing point blank to move from their “offer” of a below-inflation pay award of just 1 per cent - a de-facto pay cut and an undermining of their staff’s standards of living.”

Orkney Ferries provides an inter-island service on nine routes between Orkney and 13 island destinations.

The RMT statement added: “Late last year staff voted to overwhelmingly reject the company’s position that any meaningful pay increase must be self-funded through cuts to jobs and working conditions – and took the decisive step of agreeing to industrial action short of a strike, action that is still on-going.

Discussions between the Company and RMT, Nautilus and Unite, Orkney Ferries effectively slammed the door on any further negotiations by stating that they are not willing to support a general pay increase above 1 per cent and making it clear that they remain committed to bulldozing through what would amount to a pay cut with standards of living hammered down to poverty levels over the next three years.

RMT General Secretary Bob Crow said: “It is outrageous that Orkney Ferries have come up with precisely nothing despite hours and hours of talks and despite the helpful intervention of ACAS in this dispute.

“They have now forced a stand-off through their sheer contempt towards their staff and the union’s will be discussing the next move which could, of course, include an escalation of the action as we head towards the busy summer months.

“By standing strong together we will continue to show the Company that they must return to the table and make a decent offer which represents a substantial increase in rates of pay and genuine improvements to terms and conditions.”

Steve Todd, RMT National Secretary, said: “It is down to the company to recognise the anger and resentment that their stance has generated and to agree to get back round the table for meaningful talks aimed at resolving this dispute rather than slamming the door in our faces.

“The company have upped the ante through their attitude and it is down to them that we are left with no option but to consider, along with our partner unions, an escalation of this dispute over the summer.”

Orkney Ferries is a company wholly owned by Orkney Islands Council. The company’s funding, apart from income from fares and charges, is provided entirely by the Council.

A council spokesman said: “Over the past three years, the Council has faced significant financial challenges, with its funding from the Scottish Government reduced as a result of the global financial crisis. The Council has had to makes savings of £6 million since April 2011.

“Orkney Ferries, as a company substantially funded by the Council, has had to make savings itself - £278,000 over the three year period beginning in April 2011.

“As a result the Board of Orkney Ferries has very limited financial resources available to meet the pay aspirations of the Trade Unions. The offer of a one per cent pay increase for Orkney Ferries staff for 2013-14 is in line with offers made to other staff employed directly or indirectly by Orkney Islands Council.

“With no extra money available, it is difficult to see how the Board can go further than the general pay increase offer that is currently on the table.

“But we continue to look at all avenues within terms and conditions and remain committed to ending this dispute at the earliest opportunity - and the door remains open for further discussion with the unions involved.

“The overtime ban came into effect after members of three unions voted in ballots for industrial action short of a strike. This is creating significant difficulties for the company, but despite this our over-riding concern is to maintain the service we provide for the communities we serve.”