Isle of Wight ferry operator to face strike action over DB closure plans

Wightlink staff have voted to take strike action on various dates throughout April to June, in light of plans to close the defined benefit (DB) pension scheme to existing employees and reintroduce flexible working practices seen in the first six months of the pandemic.

Having begun the ballot process in December, Wightlink union, RMT, has confirmed an “overwhelming ballot mandate” opposing the proposals.

However, it argued that Wightlink management has chosen not to listen to this mandate and had failed to hold "meaningful consultation" with representatives, having refused to withdraw the proposals at a recent meeting.

RMT described this meeting, held on 5 January 2021, as a “complete waste of time” for both the company and union, as it believed that the Wightlink was in "no position to agree anything" at the meeting.

In a letter to members, RMT Union general secretary, Mick Cash, stated: "You and your colleagues have bent over backwards to help the company survive during this pandemic only to be treated as cannon fodder.

"This union will not tolerate the contempt towards our members, the processes and legislation set up for good industrial relations."

However, the union also emphasised that it remains available for talks with Wightlink and that it is ready to enter into negotiations in order to resolve the current dispute.

“In addition,” Cash added, “the union is exploring all legal avenues in order to try and resolve this matter and I have written to the company demanding that the CEO and board members are present at the next round of negotiations on 12th January 2021.”

Commenting on the strike plans, Wightlink chief executive, Keith Greenfield, stated: "Wightlink is consulting with its employees on how to protect jobs and ensure it survives the serious financial crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

"Very few people are now travelling and passenger numbers are unlikely to return to normal in the near future. Other companies in the transport sector have already announced redundancies and pay cuts as a response to the severe financial situation in 2020, which is continuing.

"Our proposal covers changes to pensions, including a doubling of company pension contributions for the majority of colleagues, and flexible working to help Wightlink become a more sustainable business. This proposal avoids compulsory redundancies or pay cuts.

"We are disappointed the RMT has announced strike dates later in the year while formal consultations are still underway. We are confident we will be able to reach agreement with the union on these issues in the coming weeks."

RMT confirmed in December 2020 that it had begun balloting the over 400 ferry workers for both strike action and action short of a strike, after negotiations failed to deliver an pensions and terms and conditions offer which met demands.

The union previously highlighted the proposals as “particularly disgraceful” in light of employees loaning 20 per cent of their salary, and giving up terms and conditions for six months, to allow the company to keep trading amid the height of the pandemic.

Commenting at the time, Cash said: “Our members at Wightlink are angry and frustrated that the company are slashing their pensions and terms and conditions on this lifeline service in what is real kick in the teeth for loyal and hard-working staff.

“It is a particularly bitter blow in light of the fact Wightlink that employees loaned 20 per cent of their salary and gave up terms and conditions for 6 months to allow the company to keep trading at the height of the pandemic.

“Disgracefully, Wightlink has managed to find the funds to pay huge dividends to the various private equity owners that have been feeding off our members’ work for the last five years.”

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