ScotRail’s pay talks with unions have collapsed and strike action could be imminent amid claims the Scottish Government told the train operator not to offer pay rises.
Negotiations between ScotRail and the Unite trade union about pay, working conditions and redundancies have ended acrimoniously, with strikes now expected from early September.
The ScotRail franchise is currently operated by Dutch firm Abellio but will be nationalised in March 2022 and run by the government as an “operator of last resort”.
During the discussions, Abellio allegedly told workers it has been ordered by the Scottish Government to refuse calls for any pay rises.
Other demands, including flexibility over holidays, compulsory redundancies and the reinstatement of the rest day working agreement have all been rejected by the company.
Unite said its relationship with ScotRail has “plummeted to the lowest level in living memory” and staff will be asked if they are in favour of industrial action in a ballot closing on September 1.
The operator argues that emergency Government support worth more than £400m was required during the pandemic so the company did not need to cut staff or resort to furlough.
Its operating turnover fell from £989m in the 2019 financial year to £917m in 2020 as income from passengers dropped from £445.3m to £360.4m.
However, the franchise subsidy from Transport Scotland rose over the same period from £482.8m to £526.3m.
Pat McIlvogue, Unite’s industrial officer, said: “The working relationship between the trade unions and Abellio ScotRail is non-existent. It has plummeted to the lowest level in living memory, which comes at a time when Abellio’s management of the rail franchise approaches an ignominious end.
“You could be forgiven for thinking that they seem intent on leaving as much of a mess as possible before they leave the scene.
“Unite’s members have had their terms and conditions cut, while Abellio also refuse to offer a decent pay rise.
“We have launched an industrial action ballot and we are confident our members will return a vote in favour of taking action.
“The workers have been treated with no respect, despite continuing to provide a valuable service throughout the pandemic.”
A ScotRail spokesperson said: “It’s disappointing that Unite is balloting members on industrial action just as we are starting to see customers return to Scotland’s railway.
“Strike action is wrong at a time when we need to deliver a safe and reliable service and provide stability for our staff and customers alike.
“It is frustrating that Unite has tried to disrupt our services instead of working together with ScotRail to address the longer term challenges that face the railway.”