RMT members employed by Caledonian MacBrayne (CalMac) staged three days of industrial action, including a one-day strike, in the last week of June.
A ballot on industrial action held the preceding month had seen a massive majority vote for action: 92% for strike action, and 98% of action short of a strike, on a 60% turnout. The vote was so overwhelming that it passed the requirements of the Tories’ new anti-union legislation.
The dispute centres of the threat to jobs, pensions and working conditions resulting from the fact that the Clyde and Hebrides ferry services, currently provided by CalMac, have been put out to tender.
Tenders are to be submitted by December, with the result announced in May of next year.
Apart from CalMac, the international business-outsourcing company Serco is also bidding for the eight-year contract for the ferry services and the £1 billion a year funding that goes with it.
In 2012 Serco beat CalMac to win the contract for the Northern Isles ferry services – and then promptly attacked staffing levels and the pensions and terms and conditions of employment of the CalMac employees transferred into Serco.
Serco also recently took over the Caledonian Sleeper rail service from Scotland to London in another tendering process run by the SNP Scottish government (which also saw Scottish domestic rail services handed over to Abellio).
The RMT, to which around half of CalMac’s 1,400 workforce belongs, is demanding guarantees that, whoever wins the Clyde and Hebrides contract, there will be no compulsory redundancies, and pensions and terms and conditions of employment will be preserved.
The SNP government – which is overseeing the tendering process, as well as being the sole shareholder in David MacBrayne Ltd., of which CalMac is a subsidiary – has repeatedly refused to give such assurances.
Instead, its Transport Minister, David Mackay, has claimed that the tendering process – despite the risk of Serco winning the contract – does not amount to privatisation!
As RMT General Secretary Mick Cash responded: “It is extraordinary that rather than standing up for Scotland’s lifeline ferry services, those who hold political power have resorted to ludicrous arguments about what does and doesn’t represent privatisation.”
The SNP government has also claimed that EU rules oblige it to periodically put Scottish ferry services out to tender, although transport unions and the Scottish TUC have consistently argued that this is not the case.
With no movement from the SNP government in response to the RMT ballot result, RMT members staged a two-day work-to-rule followed by a 24-hour strike in the last week of June.
SNP Deputy First Minister praised Calmac’s response to the strike, saying that it had done a “commendable job” in allegedly ensuring there were sufficient services to carry 40% of normal passenger capacity during the strike.
The TSSA, which claims to represent around a hundred CalMac office staff, is currently also balloting its members.
The RMT’s industrial action also triggered a statement from the SNP Trade Union Group, which largely consisted of a series of homilies about good working conditions and the role of the SNP government in standing up for Scotland’s interests in Europe.
The response from the RMT was brief and to the point:
"This statement from a group claiming to represent trade unionists makes not a single mention of support for fellow trade unionists battling to defend jobs and services.
Instead, it hides behind a barrage of EU anti-worker legislation that has no relevance at all to this dispute and which could be challenged anyway with a united campaign.
You can't claim to be anti-austerity, pro-working-class and pro-public-services and then duck the issue when jobs and services are under all-out attack like on CalMac. The question to the SNP TU Group is: which side are you on?"