ScotRail passengers face fresh services disruption as engineering workers vote for strike action

Passengers face further disruption on Scotland’s railways as hundreds of engineering workers voted to take industrial action following the collapse of pay talks.

The action comes after it emerged team managers voted for strike action in a dispute over staff shortages last month.

And gatelines at ScotRail stations also joined conductors, ticket examiners and cleaners in taking industrial action over a pay dispute.

Weekly strikes over pay have been staged for three months by conductors and ticket inspectors in particular employed by the operators of ScotRail services, the Dutch state transport operator Abellio.

ScotRail, which is run by Dutch state-owned transport firm Abellio, has been urging staff to come together to rebuild Scotland’s railways saying industrial action is “completely wrong” for staff and customers as services become more increasingly used with the easing of lockdown.

The union Unite said that a ballot of engineering workers returned a vote of 78% in support of strike action on a 68.4% turnout.

The percentage who voted ‘Yes’ to take strike action exceeded more than half of the membership.

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And 92% also supported taking industrial action short of a strike.

Industrial action is now expected to take place from the middle of September.

Unite said the vote to support industrial action is a result of the failure by Abellio Scotrail to make a “meaningful” pay offer, as well as the company withdrawing a number of entitlements from workers including the Rest Day Working Agreement with Unite in April 2020 for engineering workers.

The Dutch state owned railway company initially withdrew it for drivers but later reinstated it.

Unite say Abellio has claimed they are under instructions from the Scottish Government not to award any pay rise to rail workers.

Pat McIlvogue, Unite industrial officer, said: “The mandate Unite has received from its members at Abellio Scotrail is an indictment of the company’s behaviour and attitude towards its workers.

“The reality is the working relationship between Unite, and for that matter all trade unions, with Abellio is virtually non-existent.

“Unite’s members have had their terms and conditions cut, while Abellio also refuse to offer a decent pay rise.

“The ballot result is the inevitable outcome when workers are treated with no respect. Abellio has a final opportunity to get back round the table to meaningfully and positively resolve this dispute. If they do not then strike action and action short of strike will start from the middle of September.”

Rail staff union TSSA last month wrote to ScotRail warning them to expect industrial action after members working as conductor, revenue and on-train team managers with ScotRail voted for strike action in a complaint about being forced to fill in for absences caused by other industrial actions or understaffing.

Abellio’s turnover for 2020 at £917m was down from the previous accounting period, principally due to passenger income falling from £445.3m in 2019 to £360.4m.

Abellio claimed Covid-19 had had a “significant impact” on the financial performance of the company, despite the first UK national lockdown being announced just days before the end of the reporting period.

It was confirmed in March that a further £450m in emergency funding was expected to be given to rail operators until March, next year on top of the usual subsidies, after which Dutch state-owned transport firm Abellio relinquishes control of ScotRail. A confirmed EMA (emergency measures agreement) has been put in place for £173m till September, 2021.

Some 97% of the emergency payouts go to Abellio-controlled ScotRail with the remainder going to Caledonian Sleeper, which is run by Serco.

In 2019/20, before the Covid-19 crisis, Scotland’s railways cost the taxpayer £832.6m which is made up solely of subsidies of £476.9m to Abellio ScotRail, £13m to Serco Caledonian Sleeper as well as £355.7m paid directly to publicly owned Network Rail for the keep of the infrastructure, which includes the track and signals.

Transport Scotland said the the EMAs were originally required because of a “very significant shortfall in revenue due to an around 90% drop in passengers”.

The Scottish Government agency said the extra money for the 2021/22 financial year is the result of “projections of expected revenue shortfalls” till September, 2021.

Transport secretary Michael Matheson earlier this year said that ScotRail would come under public ownership run through an arm’s-length company controlled by the Scottish Government, declaring that the current system of rail franchising “is no longer fit for purpose”.

Mr Matheson said the move will come through “operator of last resort arrangements” after he decided it was not the right time to seek a franchise procurement competition to run Scotland’s railways after Abellio ends it control in March, 2022.

It came a year after ministers announced it had stripped Abellio of the franchise three years early in the wake of continuing outcry over service failings and rising costs to the taxpayer.

ScotRail has been approached for comment

The Herald Scotland

The Herald Scotland

The Herald is a Scottish broadsheet newspaper founded in 1783. The Herald is the longest running national newspaper in the world and is the eighth oldest daily paper in the world. The title was simplified from The Glasgow Herald in 1992