Scotrail is facing the possibility of its first drivers’ strike in 21 years – the news landing days after transport minister Jenny Gilruth issued a letter complaining to the UK Government about conditions that she says sparked an RMT ballot.
As reported, the RMT has begun balloting its members, in what could be the biggest rail strike in UK history. Should enough members vote for it, strikes could begin as soon as June.
This ballot went ahead as Unite consulted its TFL members over taking action on pensions, conductors continued to strike on TransPennine services (which are slated to continue up to and including Jubilee Weekend) and cleaners working for Churchill took 11 days of action.
Shortly after the RMT ballot began, transport minister Jenny Gilruth said in a letter to secretary of state for transport, Grant Shapps: “RMT has identified three key areas of dispute: pay, a no compulsory redundancy guarantee, and a commitment that no detrimental changes to working practices or terms and conditions will be imposed on its members.
“It is hugely disappointing that the UK Government appears not to be doing more to resolve this dispute to avoid industrial action. At a time when both Governments are trying to encourage the public back to rail, industrial action at this time would be extremely detrimental and, of course, would adversely impact on operations in Scotland and Scottish Network Rail employees. This dispute is not of the Scottish Government’s making; it is frustrating that, as with other Network Rail matters which are reserved, we have no say, no locus and no influence here, yet rail services and employees here in Scotland will be affected.”
However on Monday, the drivers’ union, ASLEF, said that pay talks with ScotRail had not gone as they hoped, going as far as describing a pay offer as “derisory”.
The offered pay rise has been widely reported as 2.2%
ASLEF Scotland organiser, Kevin Lindsay said: “ASLEF members who have kept the country moving throughout the pandemic have been presented with a derisory pay offer from ScotRail management which takes no account of the cost of living crisis workers face.
“Scotland’s train drivers did not take the decision to consider industrial action lightly – indeed we have not had a single pay dispute with Scotland’s railway operators for 21 years. Yet, just one month into the Scottish Government’s stewardship of ScotRail we are being left with no option but to consider action in response.
“Scotrail and the Scottish Government must recognise that these key workers deserve a decent pay rise, they should return to the negotiating table with a much fairer deal that recognises the vital work our members do.”
A Transport Scotland spokesman said: “Rail unions have long campaigned for public ownership and this Scottish Government has delivered our railways back into the public sector control.
“The Transport Minister has frequently met with rail unions in recent months and we absolutely understand the unions’ desire to negotiate a fair settlement for their members. Very recently the Minister has provided clear support for the RMT in their current pay dispute with Network Rail at a UK level.
“Rail unions are aware any increase in excess of public sector pay increases have a clear process which must be followed which includes Cabinet approval. We would encourage them to continue meaningful dialogue with ScotRail so a mutually agreeable outcome can be reached as soon as possible.
“It is our intention for ScotRail and its staff to benefit from the transition to public sector control and that is why we would call on everyone involved to take time to consider all options carefully.”
The last strike in Scotland for drivers was over a £5,000 pay rise – taking pay at the time up to £28,000.
Last October, ScotRail staff represented by RMT stepped down from strike action after an agreement was found that avoided service disruption during COP26.