Scotland’s Transport Minister has indicated that he does not believe that a railway strike will occur during COP26.
Graeme Dey charged the RMT union with moving the goalposts at negotiations to prevent industrial action from ScotRail workers.
While he stated that plans were in place for contingencies to ensure trains are running smoothly, he also warned about disruptions.
According to the RMT, ScotRail had given an unspecified deadline by which the offer could be accepted.
Three other unions representing rail workers – Unite, Aslef and TSSA – have accepted a pay deal which is worth 4.7% over two years and includes a £300 bonus for working during the summit.
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RMT members in Scotland have been informed that the offer is still available until Friday 17:00. The deadline was described by the union as “having guns pointed at your head”.
When asked by BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland if he believed a strike could be avoided, the minister for transport said that “the signs don’t support” such a statement.
He said: “The RMT and the other trade unions received an offer several months ago. It took them two weeks for ScotRail to return to us and make a formal determination on accepting or rejecting it.”
“In subsequent periods, we have tried to agree and each time it has been unsuccessful.
It is not about any gun being put to someone’s head. We’re less than one week from the COP, and it is important that we know our position.
Dey indicated that contingency plans were in place for keeping some train services operating during the UN Climate Change Summit.
It has taken a lot of work to ensure that the train service we provide is the best in all possible circumstances. “I’m not going lie to the public, and claim it will match the current level,” he stated.
There will be disruption. It will impact not just COP26 but all travellers. We are doing everything we can to ensure as many trains run as possible.
Andrew Picken analyses
ScotRail official ScotRail uses the term “decimated” when they describe the service levels that will be provided if industrial action is carried out.
ScotRail’s RMT members are mostly conductors or ticket examiners. Without them, the majority of trains in Scotland don’t operate, which is unlike other countries.
ScotRail’s InterCity services and the iconic express route between Edinburgh & Glasgow would be included in this package.
Although contingency plans for strike are in place, it’s likely that the service level will not match what has been offered on Sundays since March when separate strikes were taking place.
ScotRail, if there’s no solution by Wednesday’s deadline will train workers from other areas of its business for some of these duties.
Other trade unions representing ScotRail staff have also accepted the offer. This increase is now in effect for both them and other non-unionized ScotRail personnel.
Mick Hogg from RMT Scotland was the regional organizer and said that comments by the Transport Minister were “nonsense”. He claimed the union had been “stonewalled” for many months.
He stated that while progress had been made on a separate topic of rest day work, no significant improvements have been made in terms of pay or proposed efficiency savings.
He explained that this means there will be cancellations of booking offices, job losses, and station closings. This would also mean that access to Scotland’s railways won’t be available to the most vulnerable members of society.
The BBC later heard from Mr Hogg that RMT had asked for a 1.9% one-year salary deal. It was not connected to efficiency savings. The offer currently stands at 2.5% for this year, and 2.2% for 2022.
COP 26 takes place from Sunday 31 October through Friday 12 November. More than 30,000 guests are expected to visit Glasgow.
RMT threatens strike action starting 1 November and continuing for the duration summit.
Separately, thousands of Scottish council employees could strike during the second week in climate negotiations. This includes refuse, recycling and maintenance staff as well as janitorial and catering staff.
Douglas Ross, a Scottish Conservative leader said that the Scottish ministers had to have taken action earlier in order to settle the dispute.
“These unions exploit COP26 for their benefit and I think it’s completely wrong,” he stated.
“But the fundamental problem is that the Scottish government has been found lacking, they have remained on the sidelines and done nothing until the very last moment which makes it possible for chaos, because both the SNP Scottish Government and Glasgow City Council haven’t addressed these issues quickly enough.”
Ian Murray, Labour’s shadow Scottish secretary said that giving a deadline to the RMT for accepting the offer was not the right way to solve the rail dispute.
“The derisory proposal, which I believe to be of 2.2% – less than what inflation currently runs at – represents a cut in real wages for people who ran the railways during Covid,” said he.
According to him, the conflict with council workers is an example of “come home to roost”, after 10 years of poor investment in council services.
Scottish Liberal Democrats demanded that the transport minister be fired if there is no resolution to the dispute by the beginning of the “most significant climate summit of all times”.
Jill Reilly, a transport spokesperson said that Jill Reilly stated: “If trains aren’t running smoothly and on schedule for the duration COP26 then Graeme Dey ought to resign.
Scotland will be the focus of all eyes soon. Ministers should stop making grandstanding statements and work out an agreement that will get the train moving.
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