Strike demand

Gilruth accuses Tories of ‘punishing’ rail workers

All quiet: Haymarket, Edinburgh was bereft of passengers (pic: Terry Murden)

Transport Minister Jenny Gilruth has backed the striking rail workers and accused the UK Government of “punishing” those who worked on the frontline during the pandemic.

As 40,000 rail workers walked out yesterday in the first of three days of strikes this week, Ms Gilruth has written to her UK counterpart, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, accusing the Tory government of being motivated by ideology.

Services resume today but only 60% of trains are expected to be running. The RMT union will meet Network Rail and train companies again ahead of planned strikes on Thursday and Saturday.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has warned passengers must be ready to “stay the course”, insisting that reforms of the rail sector are in the interests of the travelling public.

In her letter, Ms Gilruth says: “The failure of the UK Government to do more to encourage and enable a settlement of this pay dispute is concerning.

“The UK Government’s approach to the network rail dispute appears to be motivated by ideology rather than practicalities – I hope that is not your view.

Jenny Gilruth
Jenny Gilruth: a resolution is possible

“Network Rail workers in Scotland and across the GB rail network have not received a pay rise in over two years. I am sure you will agree that is not an acceptable or a sustainable position.

“I note your intention to ‘drive modernisation’ on the railways. Modernisation must not come at any cost and I will again reiterate the Scottish Government’s position on this matter, which is that we will not support any reforms which seek to impose compulsory redundancies.

“Railway staff worked on the frontline during the pandemic; now is a time to recognise those efforts, not to punish workers.

“A resolution to this dispute is possible; but you will require to inject the political willing which has, thus far, clearly been lacking.”

Ms Gilruth says the Scottish Government has “consistently rejected the rail reform programme which interferes with and erodes Scotland’s devolved competencies within the rail network” and notes that Scotland is one of the worst affected parts of the rail network.

In her letter to Mr Shapps, she says: “As part of the Rail Review, Scottish Ministers and officials presented a clear case for the full devolution of rail powers but the UK Government plan outlined in the White Paper will not deliver this. That is disappointing.

“We will respond in due course to the legislative changes consultation, but the Scottish Government will not accept a position where the devolved position with rail in Scotland is in any way eroded or undermined.”

She adds that scheduled meetings have been cancelled at short notice which “does not imbue confidence in the UK Government’s approach to resolving this dispute nor in respecting devolved interests in its impact.”

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said the turnout at picket lines on Tuesday was “fantastic” and exceeded the union’s campaign.

“Our members will continue the campaign and have shown outstanding unity in the pursuit of a settlement to this dispute”, he said.

The RMT is calling for a pay rise of 7%, while employers have offered a maximum of 3%. Inflation – the rate at which prices are rising – is currently 9% but the Bank of England forecasts it will reach about 11% in the autumn.

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