A dispute over pay, with the possibility of strike action, is looming in Scotland after the RMT Union has begun balloting nearly 2,500 staff for both strike action and action short of a strike after lengthy negotiations failed to produce an offer on pay that the union can accept.
RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “After a long period of talks aimed at reaching a negotiated settlement on ScotRail pay, RMT reps are angry and frustrated that the company have failed to recognise the value of all its staff across the workforce who work equally hard on the front line during these dangerous times.
“The ballot opens tomorrow and we are campaigning hard for a massive YES vote.
“RMT is looking for a decent and responsible offer to settle this dispute and the union remains available for talks.”
However, ScotRail countered the union’s claims, stating that the RMT’s push for industrial action at a time of national crisis is wrong.
ScotRail’s passenger numbers remain 80 per cent down year-on-year because of lockdown restrictions. At the height of the initial lockdown earlier this year, passenger numbers and revenue dropped by 95 per cent.
Commenting on RMT balloting its members, which include the train cleaning team and conductors, for possible strike action because there has been no pay increase for 2020/21, ScotRail revealed that the average base salary for its train cleaners is more than £27,000, with some earning more than £36,000. The average conductor base salary is more than £32,000.
The train operator also stated that the terms of the emergency measures agreement (EMA) with the Scottish Government, whereby the government has provided additional funding to make up the revenue shortfall to ensure staff can be paid and services can operate, mean ScotRail has not placed a single member of its 5,200 staff on furlough, cut any permanent roles, or made any changes to base staff salaries.
“This is in stark contrast to many other transport operators across the country, which are cutting thousands of jobs,” the company said.
ScotRail also claims that, under the terms of the EMA, it can only begin pay talks with the trade unions when authorised to do so by Transport Scotland, and, given the uncertainty around the public finances, no authorisation has been provided.
Alex White, ScotRail’s chief operating officer, said: “The RMT’s push for industrial action at a time of national crisis is wrong.
“ScotRail is proud to provide well-paid and highly skilled jobs for more than 5,200 people. While other transport operators across the country have cut thousands of jobs, not a single member of ScotRail’s permanent staff has lost their job, been placed on furlough, or had any cuts to base salaries. This is thanks to the emergency funding we have secured from the Scottish Government.
“Passengers and taxpayers will not have much sympathy for any RMT-led strike action which stops doctors, nurses, care workers, and the other heroes of the pandemic from getting to their work.”