Hundreds of frontline Scottish Water staff announce 48 days of strikes

Unite union have announced the dates for the strikes which include the week before Christmas.

Hundreds of frontline Scottish Water staff announce 48 days of strikes Aristotoo via iStock

Hundreds of frontline Scottish Water workers are set to take part in 48 days of strike action.

Members across the Unite and GMB unions are set to take part in the industrial action with will take place over three months.

The announcement on Friday is the latest in an escalating dispute over pay and grading structures.

The action is expected to cause a significant impact to Scottish Water’s ability to respond to water leakages, flooding, pollution, and drinking water quality concerns.

Burst pipe repairs on roads and highways will not be prepared while Unite members are on strike days.

Members will also not be available to respond to work on sewer flooding.

The unions also say that wastewater pumping stations which cause spillages to rivers and water courses will be impacted.

There would be a direct threat to the drinking water quality and a consequent risk to public health if responses to these situations were significantly delayed or left unattended due to staff being unavailable.

However, Scottish Water said it is putting in place contingency plans to protect essential services for customers.

The first round of strikes will begin on November 10 until November 13.

The last round is set to take place on January 26 and ending on January 29.

Strikes will take place on a rolling basis between these points, including the days before Christmas from December 22 to 25.

The dispute comes after Unite received a significant mandate for strike action by 89% in the pay dispute.

Members involved in the action include waste water operatives, water treatment and burst repair operatives, maintenance engineers, electricians and sewage tanker drivers.

Unite have accused Scottish Water bosses of bypassing long-standing collective bargaining processes with trade unions.

The union’s general secretary Sharon Graham, said: “Unite’s 500-strong membership at Scottish Water has sent a crystal clear message to management that their behaviour will no longer be tolerated. Scottish Water has created this mess through their own arrogance and insatiable greed in the boardroom despite it being a public body.

“Unite will fully support our members in the fight for better jobs, pay and conditions at Scottish Water. Be in no doubt that we will hold management to account.”

Stephen Deans, Unite regional coordinating officer, added: “Scottish Water has paid lip service to our major concerns over pay which is being tied to a proposed new grading structure. The talks which have taken place with Scottish Water management following our membership emphatically backing strike have been in effect useless. Unite has therefore been left with no option but to serve notice of 48 days strike action over three months.”

“Unite’s membership includes key frontline workers who attend to and repair waterworks, flooding and sewers. If the action goes ahead due to the intransigence of Scottish Water management, then this will have major public safety and health implications.”

Unite have also criticised the new chief executive of Scottish Water Alex Plant, who has come under fire for earning a reported annual salary of £295,000 which the union argue is a breach of the Scottish Government’s public sector pay rules.

GMB Scotland organiser Claire Greer has urged the First Minister to intervene to avert strike action saying there has been no genuine attempt by Scottish Water to resolve the dispute.

“It has been astonishing to watch and a masterclass in how to demolish good and productive industrial relations.

“For whatever reason, Scottish Water has taken a dispute easily capable of resolution, and driven it towards a strike that will disrupt services for customers and undermine the trust of staff.

“All that has to happen is for the new grading scheme to be decoupled from the pay offer. We are happy to negotiate both but to use one to drive through the other is clearly unacceptable.

“For a publicly owned company to act in such a way is beyond the pale and, frankly, beyond belief and it is time the Scottish Government told it so.”

Scottish Water chief operating officer Peter Farrer said: “We will do all we can to ensure customers do not experience any disruption to their water supplies and that treatment of the country’s waste water continues as usual, despite the industrial action.

“A reliable water source is vital for everyone. Maintaining public health and protecting the environment are our priorities and it is the responsible course of action for us to have contingency plans ready.

“We are dismayed the unions have taken this course of action over what is an exceptional proposal for our people.

“Scottish Water remains committed to reaching an agreement with our unions that avoids industrial action. This has been the case throughout the negotiations over the proposal to modernise a 21-year-old pay and grading structure and provide employees with an in-year award of at least 8% for all.”

Customer service general manager Kevin Roy added: “It is essential we can continue to provide customers with the high standard of service they have come to expect from Scottish Water. We are scoping in detail how our vast range of activities might be impacted by this action and putting measures in place to minimise any disruption.” 

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