Orkney ferry strike nears as unions reject offer

STRIKE action by inter-island ferry workers on Orkney has moved a step closer after the latest pay offer was rejected by unions.

One of Orkney Ferries' fleet. Picture: Orkney Ferries

• Orkney Ferries in dispute with three unions over pay

• RMT accuse council-run company of “complete contempt” for workers

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• Board meeting due tomorrow (Friday)

Orkney Ferries, operated by the island council, has been informed that the three unions involved in the current pay dispute – the RMT, Unite and Nautilus International – had refused the latest offer.

RMT union bosses slammed management’s “complete contempt” for its workforce, accusing the company of an “arrogant and bullying attitude” which could force an escalation of the situation.

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

RMT General Secretary Bob Crow said: “It is outrageous that Orkney Ferries have still failed to come up with a serious pay offer 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 will be discussing the next move which could, of course, include an escalation of the action in the busy summer months.”

Steve Todd, RMT National Secretary, added: “It is down to the company to recognise the anger and resentment that their stance has generated, reflected in this ballot result, 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.”

Councillor Graham Sinclair, Chair of Orkney Ferries: “We are very disappointed that union members among staff employed by Orkney Ferries have voted to turn down the offer.

“At a time of reduced funding and pay restraint, we made what we considered in the circumstances to be a generous offer. The offer included a one per cent increase in pay and met the Trade Unions’ requests for an extra week’s holiday.

“This dispute is about pay and, in our view, the offer should have brought this long-running dispute to an end. But because of the ballot results, the offer will now be withdrawn.”

Councillor Sinclair added: “Throughout this dispute our over-riding priority has been to maintain lifeline ferry services to the communities we serve.

“Everyone involved has worked tirelessly to keep ferries running. The overtime ban has resulted in disruption which at times has led to ferries being tied up because of the effects of industrial action.

“The ballot results will inevitably result in further disruption for our customers. We greatly regret this, but the offer was the best we could have made.”

The Board of Orkney Ferries will meet on Friday to discuss the situation.