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A pay dispute between the RMT union and CalMac rumbled on this week.
On Monday, the union claimed the major ferry operator had ‘rejected’ a recent approach from arbitrators ACAS to step in.
Yet CalMac said in response that it had not yet reached that stage, and added that it remained ‘open to dialogue’ with the four unions representing ferry workers.
The disagreement has escalated in recent weeks and hit the headlines, with the RMT warning it plans to ballot members on industrial action.
Earlier this month, it branded CalMac’s pay offer ‘derisory’ and condemned it as a ‘serious kick in the teeth’ to staff following their efforts to keep services afloat during the pandemic.
Union leaders claimed it amounted to a pay cut for crews and workers which have provided ‘lifeline’ services to Scotland’s west coast islands.
Yet with capacity slashed in 2020, the company hit back by saying that the pandemic has seen it suffer ‘significant and unprecedented’ financial pressures which could last for years.
CalMac maintained that the pay offer it tabled for staff is ‘fair and generous,’ and matched the current rate of inflation.
It said it remains ‘committed’ to rewarding staff for their work this year.
On Monday, Mick Cash, RMT general secretary, said it was ‘extremely disappointing’ that CalMac had ‘rejected’ an offer from ACAS.
Mr Cash said: ‘I have informed the company that my union remains available for talks to avert any dispute and despite this they rejected the offer from ACAS to get involved and work with all parties to lift the potential of a dispute that would be damaging to the local economy and bring unnecessary additional stress and pressure to the islanders.’
However, has CalMac denied the situation has reached the point of requiring ACAS.
Robbie Drummond, managing director of CalMac, said in a statement: ‘We have made a fair and reasonable offer to staff reflecting the cost of living. We remain open to dialogue with our four unions at any stage.’
Meanwhile, Transport Scotland, the Scottish Government’s transport agency, said it holds no sway over pay policies at CalMac after also coming under union cross fire.
A Transport Scotland spokesperson said: ‘CalMac pay policy sits outside the coverage of the Scottish Government’s pay policy and, as such, this is a matter for CalMac and the unions concerned.
‘We would urge management and unions to continue to engage in meaningful dialogue to reach a mutually agreeable outcome that avoids impacting staff and ferry users at an already difficult time for communities.’
Last week, the MV Isle of Lewis swiftly returned to service after a deep clean following three crew members testing positive for coronavirus.
The vessel was back on the Oban-Barra route from Monday November 9 with a relief crew in place after being cleaned by a specialist company.
Robert Morrison, operations director for CalMac, said that in line with strict procedures, the vessel was returned to Oban without passengers and underwent a deep clean before being returned safely to service.