The ball is in the court of the Scottish Government to prevent Scotland’s railways will come to a standstill during the COP26 event.
The RMT union have been in dispute with Scotland’s rail operator, Abellio ScotRail for a number of months.
Under the terms of the ‘Emergency Measures Agreement’ ScotRail are effectively run by the Scottish Government, via Transport Scotland. This means ScotRail are unable to settle any dispute without the authority of the Scottish Government.
ScotRail’s workers have had no pay rise since 2019, with the company citing the Covid pandemic as the reason. In early 2020, ScotRail refused to renew the rest day working agreement in place with employees. During the pandemic, ScotRail workers have been deemed key workers and have worked throughout. A study by the Office for National Statistics showed railway workers to be amongst the most at risk occupations for contracting the virus.
The RMT union seeks re-instatement of the rest working agreement – a return to the status quo. It also seeks an above inflation pay increase, in recognition of the work carried out by railway workers over the period of the pandemic.
However, ScotRail rejected these requests and the union were forced to ballot. RMT have now been taking industrial action over the previous 8 months.
Despite the union’s attempts, to obtain a fair pay increase in recognition of the work carried out by railway workers during the pandemic, the Scottish Government, via Transport Scotland and ScotRail have offered a below inflation increase, which is conditional upon the requirement to make ‘efficiency savings’. These efficient savings are likely to be in the form of ticket office closures, cost cutting and reductions in staff numbers. Understandably, the union are unable to agree to a pay deal which will result in employees losing their jobs, with fewer and poorer services being available to the public.
The eyes of the world will soon be on Scotland, and in particular, Glasgow.
Without doubt, Scotland’s railways will play a key part in the country achieving its climate target obligations as people move to the railways from more polluting forms of transport. This can only be achieved through a properly funded, improved and expanded railway which will benefit the climate and the population.
The RMT sought to resolve these matters months ago, however the Scottish Government’s intransigence and brinkmanship has resulted in this issue still not being resolved, on the eve of COP 26.
As things stand, the RMT’s members will be on strike for 12 days throughout the period of COP 26. The RMT has proposed an acceptable settlement to ScotRail and, as it has been since the dispute began, is open to meaningful discussion to resolve matters. It is now up to the Scottish Government, via Transport Scotland and ScotRail, to respond to the RMT's reasonable proposal and ensure trains run throughout COP26.
The Scottish Government hold the key to resolving matters. If they genuinely want to ‘green’ our future, the way to go about this is to invest in the country’s railways. Clapping for key workers seems like little more than a gesture. The Scottish Government can resolve this issue at a stroke: by making a fair pay offer to the railway workers and ensuring that the trains are running during COP 26.
Blog by Paul Deans, Solicitor