SHIPPING union RMT has slammed NorthLink management for saying they will attempt to keep the northern isles ferry route running in the event of a strike next month.
A ballot on strike action over the Christmas and New Year period will close on 3 December.
The RMT is angry with Serco Northlink’s plans to cut manning levels on the ferries by 36 people, and introduce flexible crewing so more people can be taken on when passenger bookings are up.
Serco NorthLink managing director Stuart Garrett said this week he would have to do what he could to keep the service operating if industrial action proceeded.
He also said 32 staff had already applied for redundancy.
The company is currently carrying out a major refurbishment of the Hjaltland and Hrossey ferries with new premium reclining seats and a premium lounge, as well as public showers and baby changing facilities.
The union is accusing them of spending £1 million on vessels while hacking back staffing to “dangerously low levels” and swapping experienced, skilled seafarers for agency staff.
They also accuse the company of stretching dry dock maintenance schedules to the very limits of legal requirements on “one of the most dangerous ferry routes in Europe”.
RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: “Serco are fully aware that we will not accept attacks on our members jobs and conditions and an all-out attempt to bulldoze through redundancies, cuts to core staffing numbers and the casualisation of these skilled shipping grades.
“Provocative comments about running a de-staffed and de-skilled scab service are particularly unhelpful when what we really need is a withdrawal of the threat to jobs.”
National secretary Steve Todd added: “ We now hear that a million pounds is being spent on ‘premium’ and ‘gastro’ experiences for those who can afford to pay while staffing and maintenance levels are slashed to the bone.
“That proves that the company is not short of money and could very easily maintain job levels and keep the skilled and experience workers in post where they are badly needed.
“RMT will not stand back while staff caught in the middle of this botched privatisation stitch-up on the northern isles routes are threatened with the sack in the dash to maximise Serco’s profits and all we are seeking is a negotiated agreement that protects those safety-critical grades.”