ScotRail drivers considering industrial action for first time in 20 years

Scotland's railways were brought into public ownership in April this year.

Train drivers in Scotland considering industrial action for first time in 20 years iStock
ASLEF described the pay offer made to drivers by ScotRail as 'derisory'.

Train drivers in Scotland are considering industrial action for the first time in 20 years following a “derisory” pay offer by ScotRail, according to a union.

ASLEF, the train drivers’ union, said that it was being left with “no option” but to weigh up taking action.

The action under consideration would include strike action, the union has stated.

It comes after a pay offer of 2.2% was made by ScotRail, which the union has claimed “takes no account” of the cost of living crisis faced by workers.

The offer also included a “top-up revenue sharing arrangement” that ScotRail said could potentially raise the pay increase to more than 7% which would apply where revenue targets are exceeded.

The union last month welcomed the nationalisation of ScotRail after Scotland’s railways entered public ownership.

It saw the Scottish Government take over the running of the railways in the country from April 1 via an arms-length company.

The contract held by Dutch company Abellio to run ScotRail was ended early after criticism over its performance levels.

ASLEF Scotland organiser Kevin Lindsay on Monday insisted that ScotRail and the Scottish Government “must recognise” that workers deserve a “decent pay rise”, as he urged them to return to the negotiating table.

“ASLEF members who have kept the country moving throughout the pandemic have been presented with a derisory pay offer from ScotRail management which takes no account of the cost of living crisis workers face,” he said.

“Scotland’s train drivers did not make the decision to consider industrial action lightly – indeed we have not had a single pay dispute with Scotland’s railway operators for 21 years.

“Yet, just one month into the Scottish Government’s stewardship of ScotRail we are being left with no option but to consider action in response. 

“Scotrail and the Scottish Government must recognise that these key workers deserve a decent pay rise, they should  return to the negotiating table with a much fairer deal that recognises the vital work our members do.”

Joanne Maguire, ScotRail chief operating officer, said that the pay offer “recognises the hard work” of staff, as well as the cost of living challenges faced.

“It is very disappointing that we find ourselves at this stage with ASLEF, despite ongoing talks and a very good offer being made,” she said.

“We have made a pay offer that recognises the hard work of our colleagues and the cost-of-living challenges faced by families across the country.

“We are still trying to recover from the pandemic. With customer numbers around one third below pre-COVID levels, it remains a very challenging time for Scotland’s Railway.

“We have assured ASLEF and our workforce that we remain open and committed to further discussions in order to resolve the dispute and move forward together to provide the safest, greenest, and most reliable railway we can for Scotland.” 

Transport Scotland has been contacted for a comment.

Scottish Conservative transport spokesman Graham Simpson called on ministers and ScotRail to “thrash out a deal” to avert strikes taking place.

“The SNP promised a bold new era when they nationalised ScotRail – but within a month they look set to transport passengers back to the 1970s,” said Simpson.

“The public have already been saddled with combination of rising fares and a reduced service – now they are threatened with even more disruption due to strike action.

“This is quite unacceptable at a time when demand is increasing as more and more people return to normal work patterns post-pandemic.

“Ministers and ScotRail must return to the negotiating table to thrash out a deal that averts strikes or risk their much-touted nationalisation descending into chaos.”

Scottish Labour transport spokesperson Neil Bibby insisted that the SNP must “treat workers with respect”.

“It has barely been a month since the SNP took control of ScotRail, and they are already threatening to plunge services into chaos,” said the Scottish Labour MSP.

“This is a shameful way to treat hardworking rail staff, who kept things going through the pandemic. 

“The SNP have stood silently by for years while ScotRail’s management treated workers with contempt, but they have no-one to hide behind now they are in control.

“If public ownership is going to mean more than a coat of paint and a photo op the SNP need to treat workers with respect and give them a fair pay deal.”

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

“The Transport Minister has frequently met with rail unions in recent months and we absolutely understand the unions’ desire to negotiate a fair settlement for their members. Very recently the Minister has provided clear support for the RMT in their current pay dispute with Network Rail at a UK level.

“Rail unions are aware any increase in excess of public sector pay increases have a clear process which must be followed which includes Cabinet approval. We would encourage them to continue meaningful dialogue with ScotRail 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.”