The industrial action by conductors on ScotRail continues as both sides ramp up the rhetoric and the union calls a fourth day of strike action.
The dispute stems from conductors demanding enhanced pay for rest day working. Ticket examiners later voted to join the action as well.
Praising his members, and blaming company bosses, RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “Our ScotRail conductors are standing rock solid once again on the fourth day of strike action in this dispute which is all about basic pay justice and equality with other grades.
“RMT revealed this week that boardroom excess at Abellio is rife with top bosses pay budgets shooting up by more than a third while the front line staff are told there’s no money for a fair deal.
“It is frankly disgusting that these same staff, who have kept Scotland’s key workers moving during the pandemic, have been repaid with a kick in the teeth from this greedy and cynical company who are determined to milk every penny they can out of the dying months of this franchise.
“RMT will be taking the Scotrail campaign for workplace justice to the Scottish TUC this week and we have no doubt that the labour movement will give us every assistance in ratcheting up the pressure on the political leadership in Scotland for an intervention that will end this pay scandal on their watch.”
However, ScotRail management joined the war of words, stating that the RMT’s figures were incorrect and that the union had “consistently misinformed its members, and the public, in an attempt to legitimise reckless strike action during the pandemic, and this is just the latest example”.
A ScotRail statement said: “It is simply not true to suggest directors within ScotRail are treated differently to any other member of staff in relation to pay increases or bonuses.
“The difference in the accounts between 2019 and 2020 is simply due to the number of directors mentioned in the report. There is an increase in the total renumeration for these directors between the two periods because there was an increase for 2020 in the number of directors included in this disclosure. Therefore, you cannot compare the figures as it’s a more people, not higher salaries.
“In terms of the highest paid director, there is a change in the number for a similar reason. It relates to a different period of that particular person being in post. For the 2020 accounts it is a full 12 month period, whereas for the previous accounts, that person was not in post for the whole time. The salary paid didn’t increase, it’s just the time period covered in these accounts differs.
“ScotRail has been absolutely clear in outlining the financial difficulties facing the business, and indeed the rail industry throughout Britain. Earlier this week we confirmed a £64.5million loss for 2019/20. There is no profit being made by ScotRail, and no director has received a pay increase during the pandemic.
“RMT members are taking strike action in a bid to force a more than 50 per cent increase in overtime payments.
“Currently, conductors who work overtime get paid an agreed hourly rate. The RMT wants ScotRail to increase this by around 50 per cent for working the same number of hours.
“Over the past few years, ScotRail has employed more conductors to limit the need for any overtime, which the RMT supported. While ScotRail was recruiting more conductors, and before the financial crisis caused by the pandemic, we agreed a time-limited increased overtime payment. That expired on 31 March 2020, as we had recruited enough conductors to reduce reliance on overtime, meaning the increased payment came to an end.
“Despite the fact ScotRail has created more jobs and the agreed increase ended more than a year ago, the RMT is still going ahead with strike action.”
ScotRail’s statement continued: “The railway is facing the most serious financial crisis in its history and we’ve had emergency taxpayer support of more than £400million. Thanks to this, we’ve been able to pay wages and run services for key workers during the pandemic, despite passenger numbers being down by more than 90 per cent.
“We appreciate the hard work of everyone in the railway to keep key workers moving during the pandemic. That’s why we’ve worked tirelessly to protect jobs, and haven’t cut any roles, used furlough, cut wages, or reduced staff benefits. That’s in stark contrast to the very difficult choices other transport operators have had to take.
“The focus of everyone should be on making the railway an attractive travel option for passengers, so we can recover ScotRail, keep people moving, and secure jobs for our people.”
The role of conductors on Scotland’s trains was only settled in 2016 after the RMT union staged a series of strikes against driver-only operation. Train operators around the UK had been fighting to remove the ‘safety critical’ role of conductors, saying they were no longer needed and that a large number of trains were already driver-only operation. A second crew member would be retained, checking tickets and taking care of passengers, but they wouldn’t open and close doors and the train could run without them in special circumstances.
ScotRail agreed to keep its conductors, and even to alter the controls on new trains that it had ordered set up for driver-only operation. Extra control panels had to be installed to allow a conductor to open doors.
South Western Railway, in contrast, has just reached an agreement with its unions to allow driver-only operation, albeit with a conductor on every train looking after the passengers.