War of words
Rail minister ‘should resign’ if strike goes ahead
Services are under threat as talks break down
Scottish Transport Minister Graeme Dey was facing calls to resign if he failed to reach a settlement with the National Union of Rail and Maritime Workers (RMT) which has rejected the latest pay offer.
Mr Dey said the RMT was misguided in its decision to go ahead with a strike during next week’s climate summit in Glasgow.
He was accused by the union of holding a gun to the union’s heads by imposing a Wednesday deadline to agree to the offer that has been accepted by three other unions.
Now the Scottish Conservatives and Scottish Liberal Democrats say Mr Dey has had months to reach an agreement on a dispute which has dragged on for months. They say it could lead to strike action that will embarrass Scotland when world leaders arrive for the summit.
Graeme Dey: ‘utterly perplexed’
Liberal Democrat transport spokesperson Jill Reilly said: “We are talking about delegates from around the world being unable to attend the most important climate summit of all time. Hotels in Edinburgh and elsewhere are booked out for this conference but their guests are unsure if they will even be able to reach the venue.
“The travelling public have now had six months of reduced services on the railways, it’s not like this has come out of the blue.
“Stewart Stevenson resigned as transport minister after snow and a lack of preparedness brought key roads to a standstill. A rail shutdown would be a failure of equal magnitude. If the trains don’t run smoothly and on time for the duration of COP26, then Graeme Dey should resign.
“The eyes of the world will soon be on Scotland. Ministers need to stop grandstanding and hammer out a deal that gets the trains running.”
Mick Lynch, RMT’s general secretary said: “We have been given a wholly arbitrary deadline of 5pm on Wednesday to accept this deal or the whole pay offer will be pulled.
“You cannot conduct serious negotiations with that sort of gun pointed at your head.”
RMT confirmed that conductors and ticket examiners will strike alongside colleagues throughout COP26 in Glasgow after the union voted at its AGM in Leeds to back the action.
The settlement on offer to RMT members would see an increase in basic salaries as follows of between £1700- £2600. There is also an additional £300 for supporting services during COP26 and an enhanced rest day working rate.
Mr Dey, who admitted he was not optimistic of reaching an agreement before the weekend, said yesterday: “We remain utterly perplexed at the position the RMT leadership is taking here.
“While we think their action is misguided and does their members no favours, we of course respect the right of trade unions to do what they think is appropriate for their membership.
“But we are clear that this is a fair and good offer that will put cash in the pockets of rail workers who have worked hard during the pandemic. This is evidenced by the fact that the three other rail unions (ASLEF UNITE and TSSA) have accepted it.
“ScotRail, with the full support of the Scottish Government, has tried a number of times to reach a deal with the RMT leadership.
“As of yesterday (Sun), the offer being made to its members consisted of a 4.7% pay increase over this and next year, a £300 payment for COP26, an additional payment equivalent to three hours salary for booking on for a Rest Day shift for the rest of the year.”
Mr Dey said the last enhancement was offered on Sunday, and he understood that it was close to agreement. But he said RMT leaders”moved the goalposts”.
Indicating that his patience is wearing thin, he added: “We intend to deliver on the offer in relation to workers in the unions who have accepted it, including giving them the additional rest day working enhancement payment. That is the right thing to do.
“What the RMT is now asking for is neither reasonable nor affordable. The travelling public deserve and need to know what rail service will be operating in the next two weeks.
“That is why we put a deadline of Wednesday for this offer to be accepted – the enhanced offer remains on the table until then. At that point, we must focus on making alternative plans for rail operations during COP26.
“I am sad that many of our railway employees will miss out on the chance to help showcase what they and Scotland’s railway are doing to help make Scotland greener and fairer.
“I know that many of them will be sad too, not least to be missing out on a substantial increase in pay.
“There is still time to avoid a situation which no one surely wants, where train services are severely disrupted and hardworking RMT members lose out – but following this decision by the RMT, regrettably that is where we may now find ourselves.”
Mr Dey said ScotRail will now “go ahead and honour the pay offer for those unions which have accepted it and also those who are not members of unions.”
MPs hear of disruption
Colin Edgar, head of communications for Glasgow City Council, has acknowledged that the planned strikes would create problems for those attending the event if they are staying in Edinburgh.
He told an evidence hearing of the Scottish Affairs Committee of MPs in Glasgow on Monday: “If you can’t get the train from Edinburgh to Glasgow, and the trains are cancelled, then they can’t get here. That’s absolutely the case. I would suggest that’s why the unions have chosen to strike at this time.”
Mr Edgar added: “It is going to be a serious problem for those people if they have come from around the world, and are only 45 minutes away if they can’t get a bus, or an Uber, then that’s going to be a real problem for them.”