Northern Isles Ferry Service (NIFS) contract

Circular No: NP/096/18


Our Ref: S2/1/2/3

25th May 2018

Dear Colleagues

Northern Isles Ferry Service (NIFS) contract

Further to Circular No. NP/048/18 of 1st March 2018, the Minister for Transport and the Islands, Humza Yousaf MSP, has announced that the next NIFS contract will be put out to tender, rather than directly awarded to David MacBrayne using a Teckal exemption from EU tendering and state aid regulations.

Whilst this is a disappointing outcome, our collective priority now is the fight for contract specifications which protect our members’ interests and for a successful public sector bid when Serco’s current, extended contract ends in October 2019.

The Minister has committed to consulting trade unions over the contract specifications. At this stage, RMT will be calling on the Scottish Government to include the following specifications in the next NIFS contract to be put out to tender later this year:

• TUPE+ protections, including no job losses or reductions in terms and conditions, including pension entitlement over life of the contract
• Subsidy clawback mechanism
• Extension of existing CBA with RMT to cover all freight ferry, shore based and outsourced cleaning and security staff on the NIFS contract
• Increased freight provision
• Annual Ratings training targets

The Minister’s claim that a majority of Orkney and Shetland residents support competitive tendering has not been subject to independent verification. Based on your union’s work in the Northern Isles, Orcadians were more in favour of a direct award whereas the views of the seafood industry on Shetland were of more interest to the Scottish Government than those of the islanders themselves.

In tandem with NorthLink members and Branches, we will mount a positive campaign for public ownership under the ‘Nationalise NorthLink’ banner. This will build the case for a publicly operated service that offers a better planned, more transparent and strategically operated lifeline ferry service for the Northern Isles. This will also include scrutiny of Serco’s record and those of any other bidders from ‘outsourcing specialists’ which Transport Scotland will encourage to bid for the next NIFS contract.

RMT policy is to ensure public ownership and operation of Scottish ferry contracts. Returning the NIFS contract to David MacBrayne would provide stability for workers, passengers, communities and the local economy. It would also prevent profiteering from the Scottish Government’s increases in public expenditure on NIFS vessels and fares in recent months.

All three passenger NIFS vessels, Hamnavoe, Hjaltland and Hrossey are now in public ownership under Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd. The Road Equivalent Tariff scheme, which has seen subsidised fare reductions of over 50% for passengers and vehicles on some CalMac routes, will also be rolled out on NIFS routes later this year. The private sector does not invest for the long-term in any public service, let alone lifeline Scottish ferry services to remote island communities.

The Minister repeated the Scottish Government’s commitment to building a successful case for direct award of the next CHFS contract from September 2024 and for future NIFS tenders. Your union will continue to strengthen the legal and political case for taking CHFS and NIFS contracts out of unnecessary, costly and pro-private EU regulation through a Teckal exemption.

I would be grateful if you could bring the content of this circular to all members in your Branch and you will be updated with further developments.

Yours sincerely


Mick Cash
General Secretary