In September 2007 Calmac was rewarded the contract for the Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Services, no surprise as they were the only bidder in a controversial ferry tender process. V-Ships and Western Ferries, the two other contenders, left the tender process at an earlier stage.
In the last eight years Calmac has provided the lifeline services for the islands and I think it's fair to say that they have done a fantastic job. The crew is always helpful and friendly and the ferries run usually exactly on time, far better than the planes do these days by the way.
Of course there were problems too. The ageing fleet, resulting in broken down ferries, has caused several disruptions, especially this year around easter. That, however, cannot be blamed on Calmac as CMAL and Transport Scotland are responsible for that part of the business. And not everyone is pleased with the fact that more and more services are cancelled or diverted based on wind forecasts and not so much the actual wind speed. I recall several days this winter where the wind seemed to be rather calm and yet the ferry service had been cancelled. On the other hand, the master must have had his reasons and who can really blame them for putting safety first? Continue reading...
Another positive thing that happened in the last 8 years was the introduction of RET (Road Equivalent Tariff) which made ferry travels to the islands cheaper for most, although less so for the locals. So all seems well right? With a few new ferries being built in the next years to replace some of the older vessels it can only get better? Well no, not entirely... or maybe... what's happening?
The contract Calmac was rewarded in 2007 was for eight years and it will end in 2016. This means that at this very moment there is another tender in progress for the Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Services (CHFS). And this time the outcome could be entirely different as there are now two big players going after the £1bn contract.
The Island News and Advertiser writes: "CalMac Ferries Limited and Serco Caledonian Ferries Limited have both passed the pre-qualification stage of the process and will be invited to submit tenders for the next CHFS contract, which will run from 1st October 2016 for a duration of up to eight years. Both operators will be given access to copies of the draft Invitation To Tender (ITT) documentation, which will then formally be issued to them on the 10th July 2015. The invitation for both operators to submit a final tender is scheduled for December 2015, with a view to awarding the contract in May 2016."
Now that there is a certain chance that another company than Calmac could win the contract the employees of Calmac are getting nervous. Just imagine the "other" company wins the bid, what will happen with their jobs and their pensions they have built up over the years? I know there is no such thing these days as a "job for life" but if you work for Calmac, which is funded by the government, you were pretty sure that you had the prospect of a reliable job and future with that company.
In an article from the RMT (Transport Union) is written: "The Scottish Government has failed to provide the unions with the exact details of the employment protections they will put in the ITT". They also state that "this leaves the union with the impression that the Scottish Government is gunning for privatisation of the CHFS contract."
In the meanwhile STV writes that "Ferry workers are preparing for strike action over a tendering process which their union says has left them "hanging by a thread". RMT has demanded “cast iron” assurances on jobs, conditions and pensions after more than 90% of members voted in favour of industrial action. The union is expected announce details of a summer walk-out later this week.
Calmac responded by saying: "Our position remains that we recognise that there are difficult issues facing our employees currently and acknowledge that our trade unions wish to support the interests of their members. However, we do not believe that taking steps toward industrial action is appropriate at this stage."
What this all means is that industrial actions, read strikes and ferry disruptions, are likely to happen anytime between this week and the end of this year. And as much as I respect the fact that the union says that the employees are in the "crossfire" and are "hanging by a thread", I would very much hope that they don't put the ferry passengers in that same "crossfire". Ferry disruptions because of weather and break downs is one thing, but deliberately disrupting lifeline ferry services by industrial actions will not be easily accepted by the island communities!