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Aslef to hold talks as RMT ballots for strike action

ScotRail services have been disrupted

ScotRail and the train drivers’ union Aslef have agreed to hold talks this week aimed at resolving a damaging pay dispute – though more disruption is threatened as other rail workers are balloted on strike action.

About 700 daily services, including many late services, have been wiped from the ScotRail timetable caused partly by a shortage of drivers who are refusing to work on rest days or accept overtime.

The union is demanding an improvement on a 2.2% pay offer, while Transport Minister Jenny Gilruth says a revenue sharing plan means overall package is worth nearer 5%.

Aslef said it would be making no further comment on the dispute or the talks until formal negotiations have taken place on Thursday.

Further pressure has been piled on the Scottish government by a group of business leaders who have urged the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to find an “immediate resolution” to the dispute. In an open letter they say it is affecting businesses “which just beginning to emerge from the long and destabilising impact of the Covid pandemic and this latest disruption will undoubtedly take a heavy toll.”

The letter is signed by the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, the Scottish Tourism Alliance, the Scottish Retail Consortium, Scottish Financial Enterprise and the Institute of Directors Scotland.

Earlier, the union’s Scottish organiser Kevin Lindsay said: “Train drivers are telling me quite clearly they are looking for a sensible settlement that we can actually move forward on to deliver for the passengers of Scotland.”

ScotRail’s service delivery director David Simpson said: “Both sides need to find a way to move this forward, to find a way to recognise the difficult financial position the industry is in after the pandemic, with a large gap between cost and revenue that the tax payer is currently filling.

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“We all share the wish to get round the table, to find a way to compromise and move forward and start returning the railway to normal.”

The RMT union, which had agreed a backdated pay rise of 2.5% in October, is balloting 40,000 members over UK-wide strike action.

The ballot closes on Tuesday and RMT general secretary Mick Lynch told the PA news agency he expected strong support for strikes when the result is announced.

“We are asking for job security and a guarantee of no compulsory redundancies, and we will not accept imposition of detrimental pay and conditions,” he said.

Network Rail is drawing up contingency plans in the event that signallers walk out, with proposals to shut down the vast majority of the system and to run only a 12-hour service on weekdays, from 7am to 7pm, on the busiest lines.

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