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Summer of Scots rail strikes loom as 800 services are cancelled in a week in driver work-to-rule

A SUMMER national rail strike is moving closer – as up to 800 ScotRail services were cancelled in just over a week in the wake of a drivers pay dispute which has seen workers unofficially work to rule.

Unions remain in deadlock over a series of disputes, one involving thousands of Network Rail workers which could bring services in Scotland to a standstill this summer.

There are at least two strike ballots planned for industrial action involving drivers and other rail workers with newly nationalised ScotRail.

The transport staff union TSSA has now called for action to avoid a “far reaching” industrial dispute across our railways this summer as it considers a potential national strike ballot with its staff working for Network Rail, which owns the rail infrastructure, including tracks and signals.

The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) has already begun a ballot for strike action which it is feared will bring Scottish rail services to a standstill, as safety concerns surface over plans to cut hundreds of critical maintenance jobs.

The unions say Network Rail is planning to cut at least 2,500 safety-critical maintenance jobs as part of a £2 billion reduction in spending, including hundreds north of the border. Meanwhile workers have been subject to pay freezes and changes to their terms and conditions.

The TSSA union is now in the process of consulting reps over an industrial action ballot amongst its Network Rail members across the UK, including in Scotland.

TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes said many of their members had not seen a pay increase in two years “and with prices rocketing enough is enough.”

He said: “If Network Rail don’t come forward very soon with proposed pay increases, which at least match inflation, a summer of discontent is on the way across our railways.”

It comes as unions raised concerns over the “worst cuts to rail services since the dark days of Beeching” fearing plans by the newly nationalised ScotRail to cut 30% of services for several months.

The train drivers union Aslef has said if service cuts were implemented, it would represent the biggest cut to Scotland’s rail services since the ‘Beeching’ cuts of the 1960s.

RMT workers has joined Aslef in looking to ballot ScotRail members on whether they should take industrial action this summer over pay and conditions.

ScotRail has urged trade unions to remain at the negotiating table so they can reach an “agreement that delivers for staff, customers, and the taxpayer”.

They warned that industrial action “risks putting people off traveling by trains” at a time when “we need to do everything we can to get customers back onto the railway and revenue in the door”.

It confirmed that it was looking at how it can deliver “greater timetable certainty and reliability for customers” and will say more in the coming days.

The minister-controlled train operator has blamed a “significant number” of pay dispute train drivers as an estimated 800 services have been cancelled since May 8 – with around 100 more axed yesterday (Tuesday).

Over 300 other services are estimated to have had train carriages cut so they carried less people, because of the driver shortage.

Union sources have confirmed that individual drivers have chosen to work their contracted hours only during the pay dispute as the strike ballot is planned – meaning ScotRail cannot meet the demand.

Aslef say the ScotRail system has always been “understaffed”, meaning it is relying on drivers working out of hours, including Sundays, as the services runs on a six-day a week basis not seven.

HeraldScotland:

The latest spate of cancellations a week after ScotRail launched a half-price rail fare offer to try and entice people back onto trains in the wake of Covid pandemic restrictions being lifted.

A separate RMT pay dispute meant that there were no Transpennine Express operating on the Anglo Scottish West Coast Mainline on Sunday with more Sunday strikes over the next three weekends.

The RMT in both their Network Rail and ScotRail disputes are wanting a higher wage rise than the 2.2% on offer and a ban on compulsory redundancies for betwee two and five years. It also wants no booking office or station closures for two years and the recruitment of hundreds of new apprentices.

Mick Hogg, RMT Scotland organiser described the ScotRail cuts plan as an “absolute shambles” and warned that with with the various strike ballots on the table it was “safe to say that industrial carnage is days away”.

He said: “We’ve been kicked in the teeth, as far as the RMT is concerned. It’s not good enough.

“If the Government and Scotrail can raise fairs by 3.8% and give nurses a four per cent [wage increase] for being key, essential workers, then where does that sit with rail workers who have also been called key and essential workers and are being offered a 2.2% increase?”

The RMT ScotRail industrial action could start on July 11 at the earliest, with the Edinburgh festivals starting in the first week of August.

The Scottish Government decided last year to take ScotRail under direct state control stripping Abellio of the franchise three years early in the wake of continuing outcry over service failings and rising costs to the taxpayer.

It came after a 2018 winter timetable with the introduction of high-speed trains and new class 385 electric trains ushered in months of cancellations and disruption to services with much of it put down to staff shortages partly due to training to deal with the new trains and timetable.

The Scottish Government is now in charge of the rail operator, which runs around 2,400 train services each day through an arms-length company ScotRail Trains Ltd.

A Transport Scotland spokesperson said: “Rail unions have long campaigned for public ownership and this Scottish Government has delivered our railways back into the public sector control.

“Rail unions are aware any additional increase above public sector pay policy amounts have a clear process which must be followed which includes cabinet approval. Non-driving staff have already received the previously negotiated and agreed 2.2% increase for this year, while negotiations continue with both Aslef and the RMT. We would encourage everyone to continue meaningful dialogue with ScotRail, their employer, 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.

“Scotrail is looking at how best to manage this including looking at revising timetables on a temporary basis – our experience is that people want certainty when they travel so we are looking at how best to provide as much of that as we can during this challenging period.”

David Simpson, ScotRail service delivery director, said: “We are experiencing a driver shortage, which means some services will be cancelled. We are very sorry for the disruption and inconvenience this will cause and understand customer frustration when this happens.

“Unfortunately, since the drivers’ union Asle announced it would ballot for strike action, a significant number of drivers, but not all, have declined to make themselves available for overtime or rest day working. While rest day working is entirely voluntary this does mean we do not have the number of drivers available to operate the full timetable.

“We are currently reliant on drivers working overtime or on their rest days because of delays to training new drivers caused by the pandemic. This is something experienced by all operators across Britain.”

It said that the 2.2% pay offer comes with a top-up revenue sharing arrangement that could potentially deliver an overall pay package worth a seven per cent increase. This would apply where revenue targets are exceeded.

“ScotRail has made a good offer that could potentially deliver an overall pay package worth a seven per cent increase for staff. This gives hard-working staff a well-deserved pay rise, recognises the cost-of-living challenges faced by families across the country, and delivers value for the taxpayer,” said Mr Simpson.



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