Strike likely

Union condemns 16% pay rise for trams boss

Lea Harrison
Lea Harrison: pay hike (pic: Terry Murden)

Union leaders have described a 16% pay rise for the boss of Edinburgh Trams as “appalling” as their members are asked to accept a 5% deal.

Lea Harrison, managing director of the trams company, saw his salary rise from £150,000 to £175,000 for the year ending in April. He was also handed a £16,000 bonus.

Ticket sales assistants, who earn £20,000 a year, have rejected the latest pay offer and a further rise of 4% in 2023. Union leaders said some tram staff were forced to use food banks.

Tram workers are now being balloted on industrial action over pay, which could result in workers striking during the Fringe festival. A result is expected after 20 July with the threat of strikes starting from 4 August.

In 2019/20 Mr Harrison was the recipient of Britain’s biggest public sector bonus – a payment of £48,895 after overseeing a dramatic increase in paying passengers before the pandemic.

Lyn Turner, regional officer for the Unite union, said: “It is appalling and very concerning to see that Mr Harrison received a basic pay rise of 16%, while we are in discussions over pay.

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“Staff get peanuts. Some are on less than £10 an hour and rely on food banks, while others struggle to afford fuel to drive to work.

“It’s immoral, when bosses are getting big bonuses. Edinburgh Trams is a municipal transport company and they need to do the right thing by their workers. Their offer was derisory and below inflation.

“I fully expect our members to vote for strike action. So far the attitude has been negative. We are willing to meet bosses at an independent venue to thrash this out with ACAS. But we’ve had no response on that.

Tram to Newhaven
The tram is being extended to Newhaven (pic: Terry Murden)

“Edinburgh Trams have been nominated for Public Transport Operator of the Year award. I’d ask them to forget the awards table and get round the table to negotiate a pay that our workers deserve.”

Responding to the ballot, Mr Harrison said: “These proposals follow above inflation pay rises over the last six years, including during pandemic. During this period we have done everything we can to support our employees, maintaining job security and avoiding redundancies.

“As we continue to emerge from the pandemic, our focus must be on delivering a sustainable service and we are saddened that the union is taking this course of action when presented with a fair pay offer that recognises the challenges faced by employees whilst ensuring the financial stability of the company, therefore protecting jobs in the long term.

“Clearly we remain open to further talks, subject to reasonable proposals from the union, aimed at working towards an agreement that avoids any unnecessary industrial action and the resulting impact on services for our customers.”

Cammy Day, the leader of Edinburgh City Council, said the payout to Mr Harrison was “disappointing” and said it showed why the city’s transport company needed to be reformed.

A spokesman for Edinburgh Trams said: “Previous pay increases for members of the executive team have reflected the additional workload and responsibilities resulting from the organisation becoming a maintainer, as well as an operator, of the city’s existing tramway.”

He said the increase also reflected work on the extension of the network to Newhaven, in north Edinburgh.

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