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Strike threatens far north rail services

By David G Scott

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ScotRail announced it was "disappointed" at results of the strike action vote just announced that threatens to disrupt railway services in Caithness and other parts of the country.

ScotRail expressed its disappointment after the RMT trade union’s ticket examiner members voted in favour of strike action, despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and the most serious financial crisis in the railway’s history.

Union bosses balloted their ticket examiner members for strike action in an attempt to force an increase in overtime payments.

The result was as follows:

Strike action: Yes - 238 No - 44

Industrial action short of a strike (for example a ban on overtime or rest day working): Yes - 254 No - 28

Train heading towards Wick railway station. Picture: DGS
Train heading towards Wick railway station. Picture: DGS

Of the total number of ticket examiners balloted, 58.8 per cent voted in favour of strike action. Of the total number of ticket examiners who actually voted in the ballot, 84 per cent voted in favour of strike action.

ScotRail said it will await further information from the RMT about the outcome of the action and the impact this will have on train services. The train operator said it will seek to minimise any impact on key workers reliant on rail services where possible, but warned some services may have to be cancelled.

Passenger numbers and revenue remain more than 90 per cent down compared to before the pandemic. Coronavirus restrictions, including the instruction for people to work from home, have resulted in the number of people travelling with ScotRail to plummet.

Thanks to emergency Scottish Government support worth over £400million since March 2020, ScotRail hasn’t cut any permanent jobs, reduced wages, cut terms and conditions, used furlough, or cut any employee benefits. A further agreement has been reached with the Scottish Government to run until September 2021, which will be vital in providing the platform upon which the railway can recover.

Despite this, union bosses ploughed ahead with a ballot of ticket examiners for strike action. ScotRail said the result will have no impact on its position on overtime pay increases, given the severe financial challenges it faces.

Phil Campbell, ScotRail head of customer operations, said: “I’m disappointed the RMT’s ticket examiner members have voted for strike action when we are in the midst of the pandemic.

“When we are on the cusp of safely welcoming customers back onto Scotland’s Railway as lockdown restrictions ease, strike action over increased overtime payments is completely wrong for staff and customers. We will do everything we can to minimise the impact on customers, particularly those key workers who are reliant on our services, but services may have to be cancelled.

“ScotRail is currently facing the most significant crisis in its history. At a time when we need everyone to work together to rebuild and create a more sustainable railway for the future, the actions of the RMT bosses are reckless.”

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