INCOMING northern isles ferry operator Serco is confident next month’s handover will not be disrupted by strike action over staff pensions.
The company’s business development manager Jamie Ross made the comment after attending a meeting of Shetland Islands Council’s external transport forum on Wednesday afternoon.
Shipping union RMT has threatened to ballot its members on industrial action over pensions as staff are transferred from current operators NorthLink, setting a deadline of 28 June.
Mr Ross said the union was right to protect its members interests, and the company would be meeting with staff later this week to provide reassurance about their proposals.
“I am confident that there will be a service on 5 July. We will be working in partnership with the unions, we understand why the unions raise issues of concern,” he said.
“As part of the consultation it is our commitment to put as much information to representatives and individual members of staff about pensions and other aspects of terms and conditions, and I am confident that that will give reassurance.”
Serco is also coming under increased pressure from the local salmon farming industry to base their second freight vessel in Lerwick so it can be used at short notice.
The company plans to operate just one freighter all year round, the second only in service for six months and tied up on standby for the rest of the year.
Shetland Aquaculture general manager David Sandison warned that the quantity of perishable freight requiring export fluctuated on a daily basis and Serco would need to be able to respond quickly to meet demand.
“Because we are the most important bit of the freight equation we think it is far, far more sensible if the second vessel was dedicated in Shetland and that its crew would be available at a very short notice,” Mr Sandison said.
Mr Ross said he understood the industry’s demands and that Serco was still finalising its freight charter arrangements.
“This is something still to be decided, but what we have said is that we would base the second freight ship on the network, and it is in everyone’s interest that we base it in the most logical place.
“What I have heard here today is that there is a very strong view that it should be based in Lerwick, so I will take that into account as we decide what to do.”
He said that the new contract differed from the previous six year contract in that it allowed for a more commercial approach, allowing Serco to operate the northern isles ferries in a more profitable fashion and thus potentially reducing the annual subsidy.
NorthLink will hand over the service to Serco on 5 July at 3pm. Chief executive Bill Davidson, who will continue to be employed by sister company CalMac, used the opportunity of addressing the external transport forum to reflect on 10 successful years running the northern isles ferry route.
He said the company was sorry not to have been successful in the bidding process and vowed to try and win back the contract from Serco in 2018.
Numerous brochs were erected during the Iron Age . In addition to Mousa there are significant ruins at Clickimin , Culswick , Old Scatness and West Burrafirth , although their origin and purpose is a matter of some controversy.  The later Iron Age inhabitants of the Northern Isles were probably Pictish, although the historical record is sparse. Hunter (2000) states in relation to King Bridei I of the Picts in the sixth century AD: "As for Shetland, Orkney, Skye and the Western Isles, their inhabitants, most of whom appear to have been Pictish in culture and speech at this time, are likely to have regarded Bridei as a fairly distant presence.”  In 2011, the collective site, " The Crucible of Iron Age Shetland ", including Broch of Mousa, Old Scatness and Jarlshof, joined the UKs "Tentative List" of World Heritage Sites .