RMT appear confused about unbundling

The Oban branch of the RMT were demonstrating today (Friday 25th March) outside the CalMac terminal building in Oban.

The ‘Project Neptune’ referred to in the banner is a piece of consultancy commissioned by Transport Scotland that has yet to be published. It is expected to make recommendations about the future organisation of ferry services and the division of responsibilities between CalMac, CMAL and Transport Scotland.

In their banner, the RMT appear to assume that un-bundling means privatisation. This is not the case. Even our MSPs  in the Scottish Parliament seem to get confused by the implications of un-bundling. It was one of the reasons we wrote a detailed explanation of un-bundling on our website, which is available to read here.

Let’s be clear, no-one wants a privatised ferry service that means the end of public service obligations, removal of RET and routes only operating if a profit can be turned out of them. Ferries are a public utility, just like our roads.

But on the other hand, there is no evidence to show that the best way to provide a ferry service is through a monopoly running all ferries in the Hebrides. The norm in most other developed countries is that public service ferry routes are put out to tender on a route-by-route basis (or in small bundles), with operating companies competing for government subsidy to provide the most efficient, most frequent, most reliable ferry service using ferries that they design and buy themselves. Un-bundled ferry contracts are the norm in other countries – like Norway. Norway has the most reliable and modern ferries, most frequent timetables, the longest operating days, most efficient operators and most green ferry service in the world. Their ferry service is leagues ahead of Scotland’s on every measure, and one of the main reasons is that they have an un-bundled system, with routes tendered individually.

The evidence from Norway is that users get a better service from an un-bundled ferry system.

The other evidence from Norway is that they still need plenty of crew to run their service. Unbundling does not equal job losses. Rather than operating one large ferry with a large crew, the norm in Norway is to operate smaller ferries, but more of them. So each vessel is much more productive; the service is more resilient; timetable frequency is higher; the operating day is longer – but they still need plenty of skilled and well-paid seafarers.

Here’s an example of how crewing and services might compare on the Craignure-Oban service, if it was put out to tender in the same manner as Norway:

MV Isle of Mull + MV Loch Frisa3 x small ferries @ 60 cars each
Combined car capacity96180
Sailings per day2030**
Time between sailings1 – 1.5 hours40 minutes at peak times
First – last departure7:10am – 08:05pm*6 am – midnight
Crew 29 + 7 = 363 x 12 = 36
*excluding Fridays ** could be more, with shore-based crews.

Please read our full exploration of un-bundling here. The RMT should have no reason to fear un-bundling, and it could deliver big benefits to users. The RMT care about delivering a good service to islanders just as much as they want to protect their members jobs. Users and crew should not be on opposite sides of the argument. CalMac crew are islanders too. So we would welcome contact from the RMT or any other seafaring union, so that we can discuss this crucial issue and find a common approach that protects Crew members and benefits islanders.

2 thoughts on “RMT appear confused about unbundling

  1. Reading between the lines I wouldn’t be surprised if P&O Ferries took their huge decision in order to remove RMT from future negotiations.
    Wait until they start threatening strike action in Scotland the way they do in the southeast of England.

  2. Unbungling should be given a higher priority than unbundling. I cannot see that the RMT should have much if any input to working out the ferry service pattern for the future. Their sole function is the welfare etc. of their member (the crews).
    This was my comment to Calmac as part of a post booking feedback survey:

    “Could not get a reservation on the day required, which was a Saturday in mid June!

    This is an appalling situation and replacing the inadequate Coruisk with a slower smaller vessel on a hard pressed route would be a joke in any other country. Here sadly it’s a reality. The Craignure/Oban route is heading for a train crash: crumbling pier, aging unreliable “Isle of Mull”, more extreme weather, increasing demand, long lead times for ship procurement and pier reconstruction etc. etc.

    All attempts by our ferry committee to find a positive way through have so far been rebuffed by Cman/Calmac/RMT without citing any coherent specific reasons and the next 5 years (or maybe more) look bleak.

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