Concern is mounting over the future of lifeline ferry services to the mainland, with union leaders demanding urgent talks with preferred bidder Serco as the company prepares to take over from NorthLink.
The calls are being made after last week’s announcement that the international services company would take control over the running of the North Boats for six years in July.
The maritime union Nautilus International, which represents 23,000 maritime workers, aired its fears over the awarding of the £243 million contract.
It wants to discuss pay, conditions and pensions for staff who will transfer from NorthLink to the new operator under TUPE regulations.
General secretary Mark Dickinson said: “Once again, the bidding process for Scotland’s lifeline ferry services has sparked unnecessary alarm and uncertainty.
“We strongly dispute the need to put these essential services out to tender every six years, with all the resulting fears for the future that this generates for staff and public alike.”
The general secretary of the Rail Maritime and Transport union, Bob Crow, has described the decision in the national media as a privatisation of ferry services in the name of “greed and profit”.
“This privatisation of key ferry services in the name of greed and profit is a bitter kick in the teeth for both the Scottish people and the ferry staff.”
Councillor Jonathan Wills said he would be opposed to the council or charitable trust investing in Serco because of its involvement in the nuclear industry. Shetland Islands Council has a long-running policy against nuclear energy, but Serco is excluded from the Norwegian government’s investment portfolio because of an ongoing involvement in nuclear arms.
“From what I know of Serco in Shetland, they have got quite a good record of the way they treat their staff … but there are international concerns about their conduct,” said Dr Wills.
“We have an excellent system, not only when you book but when you check in and on board as well. I would be very sorry to see any changes that spoil their working conditions.”
One thing that will not change is the NorthLink branding, which Serco is set to keep in order to “maintain the positive identity” and avoid the needless expense of rebranding.
The news Serco was being put forward as a favoured candidate came as a shock to many when it went public on Friday – the same day the results from the local council elections were released.
Although the company has great knowledge of marine harbour operations through its work with the Royal Navy, it currently only operates one short ferry service – the Woolwich Free Ferry.
Serco describes itself on its own website as a service and outsourcing company which has been delivering essential public services for more than 40 years.
More than 100,000 employees deliver mission-critical services to government and private clients in over 30 countries, it claims.
A spokesman for Serco declined to comment on Serco’s involvement in nuclear, only adding the company provided a wide range of public services including education, transport and health.