Scottish islands cut off by ferry strike

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The Independent Online

Hundreds of Hebrideans may have to spend Christmas away from their families because of failed attempts to resolve a six-day strike that has disrupted ferries to the islands.

Hundreds of Hebrideans may have to spend Christmas away from their families because of failed attempts to resolve a six-day strike that has disrupted ferries to the islands.

Talks between ferry operators and the RMT rail union in Glasgow broke up without agreement after six hours of negotiations with both sides blaming the other for the dispute, which will probably continue over the festive period.

A spokesman for ferry operators Caledonian MacBrayne accused the RMT of scuppering the talks in the last hour by "shifting the goalposts" and introducing a demand for a one-hour reduction in the working week for all staff, rather than just for pier hands.

But an RMT spokesman said that demand had been on the table throughout the talks. He said "regrettably" there would be no suspension of the industrial action before an agreement was reached.

Scotland's First Minister, Jack McConnell, a native of Arran whose Christmas plans could be affected by the strike, sought assurances from the Caledonian MacBrayne chairman that efforts would be made to restore Christmas sailings.

Ferries from Ardrossan to Brodick, the main port for the Isle of Arran; Wemyss Bay to Rothesay on the Isle of Bute; and Gourock to Dunoon have been suspended since Tuesday because of the strike. Ferry services have been increased on the remaining sailings to Lochranza, on the north tip of Arran; and Rhubodach, north of Rothesay to Arran and Bute, but travellers face long overland journeys via the Cowal and Kintyre peninsulas.

A spokesman for the Isle of Arran ferry committee was "deeply dismayed" by the failed talks and feared many families would be apart on Christmas Day because of restricted places on alternative routes.

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