‘No plans to split ferry network’, says Salmond

Trade union representatives have welcomed the assurance from first minister Alex Salmond that ferry services off the west coast of Scotland will not be split into single routes for tendering.

Mr Salmond told Labour MSP Richard Baker at First Minister’s Questions on Thursday that the Scottish Government had “no plans” to ‘unbundle’ Clyde and Hebrides ferry services - and that the case for such a move had, in the government’s estimation, “not been made”.

A 2010 consultation paper on the future of ferry services had sought public opinion on the possibility of tendering some of the busiest services - including the Rothesay-Wemyss Bay route - separately to the rest of the west coast network.

Mr Salmond also said that TUPE rules would give protection to staff currently employed by CalMac Ferries Ltd in the event of the contract being won by another operator.

Grahame Smith, general secretary of the STUC, said: “The STUC was delighted to hear the First Minister state unequivocally that the Clyde and Hebrides ferry services would not be unbundled.

“The Scottish Government has clearly listened to the compelling arguments made by trade unions and others that the economies of scale and operational efficiencies provided by the bundle must be retained.

“The STUC looks forward to continuing a discussion with Ministers about how jobs, pensions and working conditions can be safeguarded should the Scottish Government decide to proceed with future tendering exercises.”

Talks were held on Thursday between Scottish transport minister Keith Brown and representatives of the RMT union, which is currently balloting its members for strike action over the protection of pensions and working conditions for ferry service workers.

RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: “Today we have held constructive talks with the Scottish Transport Minister and we now have a cast iron assurance that there will be no unbundling of the CalMac routes in order to prime them up for privatisation.

“We await a written response from the transport minister on the other points currently in dispute with RMT, notably pensions and workplace rights protection, and expect that in due course. Meanwhile, our industrial action ballot continues.

“While we have made some meaningful progress today, RMT’s campaign to defend Scottish ferries from privatisation and attacks on the workforce goes on and we intend to keep this issue right at the top of the Scottish political agenda.”