The founder of a new shipping line says he is shocked by union criticism that warns of ‘vultures’ and ‘scavengers’ attempting to threaten Steam Packet jobs and services.
Shipping union RMT pledged support for a joint fight alongside sister union Nautilus over what it described as a ‘renewed threat’ to lifeline ferry services.
Ellan Vannin Line is proposing to introduce a rival freight service between Douglas and Heysham, using a cargo vessel MV Cometa to be purchased from Nor Lines and with a launch date now expected to be in February or March.
RMT said it backed the call for the UK and Manx governments to bring in new controls to prevent unfair competition based on low-cost foreign crews and flag of convenience ships - and said more than 300 jobs were put at risk by Ellan Vannin Line’s plans.
RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: ‘No one should underestimate the scale of the latest threat to services, jobs and working conditions that is posed by this latest aggressive attempt to undermine the Isle of Man Steam Packet.
‘This is not the first time scavengers have attempted to exploit this life-line ferry route and they will be met with the stiffest possible joint resistance from the trade unions and the local community.’
Steve Todd, RMT national secretary, added: ‘Once again the vultures are hovering over the Steam Packet and once again we are mobilising to fight them off.’
But Captain Kurt Buchholz, who heads up the Ellan Vannin Line, insisted the MV Cometa would be Manx flagged and he hoped to recruit as many Manx crew as possible who would be paid at least the internationally-approved rates agreed with the unions.
‘We won’t pay a slave rate,’ he said.
He said he was initially shocked by the language used by the unions.
Captain Buchholz said: ‘Scavengers and vultures are normally linked to death or near death. Is the Steam Packet really in such a bad shape that there is a need for this kind of language?
‘Is the Steam Packet in such a desperate state that it needs this kind of support from the unions? It looks like a desperate attempt to get the support from the unions and government for anti-competitive law.
‘I’m still of the same opinion that 99 per cent of the population of the Isle of Man would like to have an affordable alternative service, We want to create jobs for Manx people with a career programme. We want an Isle of Man flag.’
He added: ‘Many on the Steam Packet are not from the Isle of Man, they are either from the UK or Eastern Europe – which nationality is the union trying to protect?
‘We want to employ Manxies on the ship if available. We’ve already got applications from people in the island and people on Steam Packet ships. We’ve had applications from the UK and further away and we turned them down.’
He pointed out pay rates on ship are different from those on shore – and insisted the seafarers’ rate paid would be based on that set by International Transport Workers’ Federation to which the Nautilus union is affiliated.
‘These are internationally accepted pay rates, agreed by the union.
‘We may have to pay a slightly higher rate.’