RMT calls on SNP members to reject party’s “defeatist” line over austerity action

RMT members on strike at Calmac Ferries, June 2015 Image courtesy RMT

RMT members on strike at Calmac Ferries, June 2015 Image courtesy RMT

A row has broken out between the RMT, whose members at Calmac Ferries are today on strike, and the Scottish National Party.

The RMT members are taking action to defend jobs, conditions and pensions, warning the Clyde and Hebrides service is being set up for takeover by the profiteering private company Serco.

And they have been infuriated by the release of statement from the SNP’s Trade Union Group which, while saying it recognises the union’s right to take strike action, fails to support the strike.

The statement reads: “The SNP Trade Union Group is aware of the ongoing dispute between the RMT and Caledonian MacBrayne – which operates the Clyde and Hebrides Ferry service (CHFS) which our communities rely on – and has resulted in RMT members balloting for strike action.

“The SNP Trade Union Group recognises the democratic right of fellow trade unionists to ballot for strike action and also recognises the concerns of RMT members regarding terms & conditions within the Caledonian MacBrayne workforce.

“In light of this escalation, the SNP Trade Union Group’s representatives, MSP’s and MPs have been invited to talks with the RMT to discuss these issues further.  These discussions will take place early next week and will hopefully help the workforce and the SNP TUG will do all it can to ensure that the concerns of the RMT are heard and heeded.

“Additional meetings have also already been organised by Christina McKelvie MSP – convenor of the SNP Backbench parliamentary trade union group at Holyrood – between the RMT and the transport minister.

“The Scottish Government is required by EU procurement laws to place the contract out to tender, with the process is being carried out in accordance with EU rules on procurement and state aid. This has been the case previously in 2005 where Caledonian MacBrayne was awarded the contract.

“The SNP Trade Union Group takes the unwavering view that terms & conditions should never be eroded in the workplace and that working standards should be raised at every opportunity. We welcome the statement from Transport Minister Derek MacKay pledging that the Scottish Government will ensure that the pensions of the CHFS workforce are protected.

“We believe that the current tendering process must be an opportunity to improve and strengthen the working conditions of all working on the Clyde and Hebrides ferry service. Additionally, every effort must be made to ensure that the workforce is at the forefront of decision making while this process is ongoing and continuing on into the future.

“However, while the SNP Trade Union Group is pro-European in its outlook, it believes that the EU laws that have necessitated the current tendering process are inherently flawed and do not take into account vital lifeline services such as the Clyde and Hebrides ferry services that communities depend on.

“The SNP Trade Union Group will ensure that its elected members take this issue to the heart of Europe. We will campaign for a rethink of this regressive procurement policy which is damaging to both the workforce and the communities in Scotland and across Europe which rely on such services to survive.

In response, RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “This statement from a group claiming to represent trade unionists makes not a single mention of support for fellow trade unionists battling to defend jobs and services and instead hides behind a barrage of EU anti-worker legislation that has no relevance at all to this dispute and which could be challenged anyway with a united campaign.

“RMT would appeal to rank and file SNP members and supporters to reject this defeatist line and stand by a workforce fighting to defend jobs, conditions, safety and lifeline ferry services against this attack. You can’t claim to be anti-austerity, pro working class and pro public services and then duck the issue when jobs and services are under all out attack like on CalMac. The question to the SNP TU Goup is which side are you o‎n?”

Yesterday a cross party motion tabled in Scottish Parliament backed the union’s campaign. Supported by John Mason (SNP), Neil Findlay (Lab), David Stewart (Lab), Elaine Smith (Lab), Anne McTaggart (Lab), Cara Hilton (Lab), John Wilson (Ind) Jean Urquhart (Ind), the motion read:

That the Parliament notes the current dispute between Caledonian MacBrayne (CalMac) ferry workers and the employer over concerns about future services, staffing levels, job security and pensions, which it understands have arisen from the tendering process of Clyde and Hebrides ferry services currently operated by CalMac; supports CalMac workers and what it considers the excellent job that they do and calls for their concerns to be addressed; notes that the private sector corporation, Serco, is bidding to take over CalMac services, and believes that the interests of islanders, tourism and the Scottish economy would be best served by these lifeline ferry services remaining in the public sector.


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Tim Lezard

Campaigning journalist, editor of @Union_NewsUK, NUJ exec member; lover of cricket, football, cycling, theatre and dodgy punk bands

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