Scotland has already seen discordant change in contractual rearrangements for ferry service provision in the Northern Isles. A recent tender for these routes, operated by NorthLink Ferries, went to the private sector company Serco, mysteriously omnipresent in defence related service provision.
Serco has little experience of running ferries in any serious way – and one would have thought that the G4S debacle in failing to provide contracted security services to the London Olympics would give pause to the relentless hiving off of essentially public sector responsibilities.
NorthLink Ferries staff are to be transferred to Serco under TUPE arrangements, which in fact offer little real employment protection.
The union threatened strike action and has just called it off, having apparently gained some acceptable reassurances from Serco on employment.
In yesterday’s (31st July) move, the Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers Union (RMT) is responding to Transport Scotland’s parallel identification of west coast ferry routes to be open to tender.
- the Isle of Arran service between Ardrossan and Brodick
- the Isle of Bute service between Wemyss Bay and Rothesay
- the Isle of Mull service between Oban and Craignure
- the Isles of Cumbrae service from Largs
The reason for the strike call is given by RMT as Caldonian MacBrayne (CalMac) Limited’s alleged refusal to respond to union concerns about the protection of pension rights and working conditions for workers following the privatisation of these services.
In the case of Serco, the threatened strike was against the new employer – which is a logical target as the responsible body for working conditions and workers’ pension rights.
In the latest case, RMT has taken aim at CalMac – the ferry operator that has no leverage whatsover on what happens in this matter.
Strike action against that company can do nothing except damage the crucial west coast tourist economy and disrupt holidays many ordinary folk have saved hard to enjoy here.
Transport Scotland – aka the Scottish Government – has made the decision to open these individual services to tender.
CalMac is a limited company in effective public ownership through Scottish Ministers.It will offer advice to its owners but it does what it’s told.
All the company can do is what NorthLink Ferries did, which is negotiate with any incoming operator to make sure that workers on the sold off routes are also transferred with the franchise under TUPE arrangements.
CalMac is in no position to offer any assurances or guarantees on what the position for employees may be under new owners.
RMT’s argument should be with Transport Scotland whose initial and ultimate decisions undermine their member’s security of employment and pension rights – and with those interested and successful in tendering to operate the routes in question.
Bob Crow, RMT’s General Secretary, is reported as saying: ‘RMT will take whatever action is required to protect our members’ working conditions and their pension rights as the vultures hover to bleed these lifeline ferry services for every penny they can extract.’
A CalMac spokesman has told us: ‘It is regrettable that the RMT have made the decision to ballot for strike action. We do meet regularly and will work closely with them to ensure we are able to continue to provide essential lifeline services to the rural and remote communities across our network.
‘As Transport Scotland have pointed out in their response, the issues raised by the RMT are a matter for Scottish Ministers and then for bidders, not CalMac Ferries Ltd.’
One respects the union’s heart but not, in these Olympian days, its target shooting.