NorthLink Ferries has announced that it’s planning to cut as many as 36 workers from its payroll. This follows outsourcing firm Serco Group taking over the ferry operator in July after winning the new £243 million contract to run the Northern Isles services for six years. These services operate between Orkney, Aberdeen and Shetland, and the company has announced that it’s launched a consultation with staff and unions.
Serco NorthLink Ferries managing director Stuart Garrett says that Serco Group started a formal consultation with unions and seafaring staff on its NorthLink contract, in which it aims to reduce the workforce by up to 36 positions. They plan to adopt flexible levels of crew to allow them to tailor staffing levels according to passenger numbers. He noted that this is commonly done among other commercial ferry operators as well.
Garrett added an assurance that safety won’t be compromised following the workforce cuts. The staffing arrangements they propose will continue to go above and beyond the crew-to-passenger ratio required by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency for their vessels (which are actually owned by a Royal Bank of Scotland subsidiary). The consultation with workers will look at all the options that are available, and they hope to make these cuts without having to make compulsory redundancies.
A Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) spokesman, which represents most of the crew below officer level, says that they aim to save as many of these 36 positions as possible. They have to sit down with the company and talk about it first, while it’s not as simple as people may perceive.
RMT regional shipping organiser Mike Hogg says that any compulsory redundancies will be resisted by the union, and they will launch a ballot for strikes if they find it necessary. They have been advised of the potential reduction in the workforce. This is an obvious concern for them, as they just cancelled a ballot for industrial action in the summer, which they were going to have to protect jobs, pensions and working conditions. The ballot was cancelled because they were given guarantees from Serco Group that were satisfying. They were given assurances for negotiations.
Hogg added that they are happy to enter meaningful talks with Serco NorthLink Ferries to find the best solution for its union members. However, one thing they are clear about is that they won’t tolerate or accept any enforced redundancies. They have a meeting with the company already scheduled, during which they will explain the rationale behind these reductions. They are keen to keep a working relationship with the company, but they aren’t willing to pay a price.
Meanwhile, Serco Group made another announcement recently that passenger and freight fares will rise 2.8% next year, which was agreed on by the Scottish government. Additionally, it has plans to reduce the number of sailings throughout the Pentland Firth between Scrabster and Orkey. These will be reduced from three services a day to two during off peak periods from 1 January. However, the Hamnavoe will make three return sailings on specific days during the period to cater to national holidays and other local events.
Garrett said that they understand the importance of ferry sailings to the Orkney and Shetland communities. They will continue engaging with customers to ensure they provide a great service. They discussed and carefully monitored demand for services over the year and believe the new off peak sailings will fully meet demand. Now the routes will be more efficient and allow the company to deliver an affordable service and invest in improvements.