The current assault on offshore workers’ jobs and terms and conditions highlights a failure to require oil companies to make contingency plans. But whilst these opportunistic attacks are taking place the Scottish Government will say they do not have any legislative powers to stop them. That does not mean the Scottish Government is powerless and we support the Scottish Energy Jobs Taskforce and will be using it to seek to protect jobs, safety and employment rights.
The Scottish Government’s campaign for decent jobs and fair work must start where it does have the power to protect jobs and improve pay and conditions. Scottish ferries are one example, yet the decent jobs on Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Services (CHFS) are under threat from this Government.
The CalMac unions’ secured a postponement in the re-tendering of the 26 route CHFS contract but the competition to run these services has now begun in earnest. The next contract, valued at up to £1 billion over eight years will be awarded in May 2016 but the Scottish Government has not yet at the time of writing this article provided assurances to the CalMac unions over employment and pension protections for our members. Failure to, at the very least honour existing protections would be an invitation to a private bidder to base a cheaper bid and projected profits on redundancies and cuts to pay and pensions of our members.
And we have been here before when the Scottish Government privatised Northern Isles ferries in May 2012 by awarding Serco the £350m (nearly 70% subsidised) 2012-18 contract. Within six months of the contract start, Serco announced staff cuts and an attack on pension rights, contravening earlier agreements with the unions. Whilst RMT’s strike action prevented Serco from cutting seafarers’ pensions, nearly 40 jobs have been lost and passenger fares, including for pensioners and school children have been hiked.
CalMac could still win the next CHFS contract but the SNP’s Ferries Plan to 2022 seeks to open Scottish ferries up to greater competition rather than remove lifeline ferries from EU maritime competition law requiring re-tendering. A wealth of trade union and academic opinion supports an exemption for Scottish ferries from this disruptive rule but the bottom line for workers and passengers on Scottish ferries is that this Government’s approach puts the rights of private sector shareholders’ access to a large stream of public revenue above the rights of ferry workers and passengers.
A reminder of where privatisation leads is provided on the two Seatruck vessels currently chartered to work on the Northern Isles and CHFS ferry routes. Polish and Estonian seafarers working on these vessels are paid as little as £3.66 per hour and Seatruck’s refusal to bring their pay into line with the collectively bargained rates for the industry demonstrates the dangers of private sector involvement in Scottish ferry services.
By the time we go to the polls next year, the Scottish Government may have privatised the entire Scottish ferry network. That would probably be seen by some in the Holyrood bubble as shrewd appeasement of powerful multi-national but most in the trade union movement would see it for what it is – a betrayal of Scottish communities and workers. Lets campaign together to make them see sense.
National Union of Rail, Maritime & Transport Workers