Union says workers and Rathlin Island community treated as expendable in wrangle over outsourced service
Unite the union has demanded urgent action by the Department for Infrastructure to resolve an ongoing pay dispute and safeguard the ferry service to Rathlin island.
The private sector operator of the ferry service to Northern Ireland’s largest offshore island, Rathlin Island Ferry Ltd, has indicated to the Department that the company could enter liquidation by the end of January.
Unite members at the ferry operator are today striking for a third day after four days when there was no service to the island as a result of inclement conditions and strike action.
Strike action is scheduled to proceed for four days a week (Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays) for the remainder of January.
The strike follows a ballot of ferry workers who voted with a 85 per cent majority for industrial action in pursuit of a cost of living increase. Their vote came after workers’ endured three years of a pay freeze.
Unite understands that the Department has recommended the operator provide a pay increase to ferry workers for last year with an inflation-linked increase in the coming year but as yet no offer at all has been made to the union.
Unite general secretary Sharon Graham stated her union’s support for the workers:
“It is completely unacceptable that my members and indeed the community on Rathlin Island are being treated as expendable in a row not of their making.
“After three years of pay freezes, workers are still waiting for an offer of a pay increase in the worst cost of living crisis in a generation. Now they face a threat to their livelihood as a result of a wider dispute outside their control.
“The Department must intervene now to save the service and ensure our members receive the pay they deserve. The Rathlin Island ferry workers can rely on the full support of their union in this dispute.”
Unite the union is also seeking clarification from the Department as to whether the ferry operators’ contract includes a financial provision for pay increases which were denied the workforce in previous years.
Regional Officer Brenda Stevenson confirmed that she has written to the Department seeking an urgent meeting to seek intervention to resolve the pay claim and the wider dispute with the ferry operator.
“Our members are taking strike action to win the first pay increase in four years but now they face a threat to their employment as a result of a wider and ongoing dispute between the Department and the ferry operator.
“The Department for Infrastructure has a responsibility to these workers and to the community of Rathlin Island. They have been aware of this situation since July but nothing has been done. Unite has now written to seek an urgent meeting with the Department to demand they intervene to ensure service continuity and the security of employment of my members. They cannot sit on the sidelines any longer.”