Monday, January 21, 2019

Transfer of Island Ferry Services Goes Ahead After Tender Process Cancelled

Maritime Union Again Happy at Outcome
Shipping News Feature
UK – After the tendering process for the passenger only ferry link between Dunoon and Gourock, previously operated by Argyll Ferries, was cancelled when Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands, Paul Wheelhouse MSP, announced last year that he would be directly awarding the contract to CalMac, the move met with criticism from some quarters. Maritime union RMT have however today welcomed the transfer of the contract heralding it as a 'victory for union members and the on-going campaign to end profiteering and uncertainty on Scottish Ferry services'.

CalMac, along with Argyll Ferries Ltd and Solent Gateway Ltd, are subsidiaries of David MacBrayne Limited, a publicly-owned private company of which the Scottish Government is the only shareholder, which a week ago agreed to install Duncan Mackison as group chief executive from March. The state owned group came under fire last month when it was revealed it had cost taxpayers around £8 million more last year than the agreed £128 million subsidy it officially collects annually to ensure the security of the lifeline ferry services.

Former Royal Marine Mackison was previously employed by the Serco group, with whom CalMac had such a bitter battle in 2016, a row in which the RMT was a major player. At that time the union, along with the ferry crews, was jubilant that the contract for the Clyde and Hebrides ferries freight and passenger services was retained by CalMac for a further eight years.

Recent comments in local press by ex CalMac employees were derogatory about the condition of some of the ageing ferries employed on the Clyde and Hebrides routes which Dunoon is now part of. The MV Isle of Arran for example was launched in 1983. The two vessels on this route however, the catamarans Ali Cat built 1999 and the Argyll Flyer built 2001 will be rebranded in CalMac livery and both are owned by David MacBrayne Ltd.

The RMT says the move is welcomed by its members currently employed by Argyll Ferries. The union has held consultative meetings with members and the company and the TUPE transfer of staff to CalMac Ferries Ltd will take place today (21 January). It claims the service is for foot passengers only, ‘due to the Scottish Government’s misplaced concerns over State Aid restrictions’. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said:

“Transferring Argyll Ferries staff on to CalMac terms and conditions provides long term stability and certainty for our members on the MV Ali Cat and MV Argyll Flyer. We welcome this and the re-integration of the Gourock - Dunoon route into the Clyde and Hebrides ferries network operated by CalMac.

“Direct awards of public ferry contracts to David MacBrayne, Scotland’s publicly owned ferry company are to be encouraged and we hope that Ministers follow this logic on the Northern Isles contract recently put out to tender. We urge the Scottish Government to take this opportunity to provide a more ambitious service for passengers and staff between Gourock and Dunoon and across Scotland’s publicly funded ferry network.”

Robbie Drummond, Managing Director, CalMac said as part of the takeover Transport Scotland have indicated improved harbour facilities for passengers will be considered in the future, including the possible introduction of electric vehicle and electric bike hubs at both ferry terminals, as well as developing the ferry service to encourage active travel users, continuing:

"We are delighted to welcome our Argyll Ferries colleagues to the CalMac family and look forward to in ensuring a seamless continuity of service for our customers on this route and to developing service improvements over time."