FOUR engineers have been supplied by mainland staffing agencies to keep Shetland’s inter island ferry service running over the past six months.
The news comes in the wake of reports last week that Shetland Islands Council has been recruiting agency staff for the first time to fill vacancies in the islands’ care homes due to shortages in personnel.
However the council insists there is nothing unusual about bringing in crew members from outside the islands, and recent staff cuts have little to do with the problem.
Ferries manager Ken Duerden said that one of the four engineers recruited recently had taken up a full time post with the council, while one had only been employed for one week.
He added that there are currently four or five vacancies for crew members, and one engineer had been redeployed to oversee work on the Bluemull Sound ferry Bigga, which is out of service at the moment.
He also admitted that on “a small number of occasions” ferry sailings had been cancelled due to a lack of crew.
Last year the council lost 31 crew as a result of cut backs to the service, part of a £3.1 million savings drive.
At the time the council admitted more staff had gone than they expected, with ferrymen voicing concern over long term job security and new shift patterns.
Since then more crew have been tempted away from the council’s ferries drawn by high wages on offer from the private sector with the islands’ economy currently booming.
Staff and unions have claimed that the council was suffering the consequences of cutting the service to “the bare bones”.
However Duerden insisted that they had reduced numbers to the right level for the new timetable.
“Since then we have had other resignations and retirals, on top of that we have had some long term sickness at the moment and we have some vacancies we have been unable to fill,” he said.
“It’s not really that we underestimated the number of staff that we needed, but we have lost staff since we reduced numbers.”
The council is trying to attract new crew with the offer of complete packages, offering a healthy pension and sickness benefit.
Meanwhile the Whalsay ferry Linga, which was forced out of service after one of its engines caught fire, is expected to be back at work on Monday.
Duerden said that the fire had been caused by a mechanical failure, and was not connected to the power control system that has caused problems with the vessel in the past.
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