Sturgeon bows to unions as ScotRail agrees to 5% pay rise for drivers

Nicola Sturgeon bows to union demands as ScotRail agrees to 5% pay rise for train drivers – while rest of UK is held to ransom by barons threatening biggest walkout in decades

  • Nicola Sturgeon today bowed to the demands of unions threatening strikes
  • Nationalised ScotRail has agreed to 5% pay rise for train drivers with Aslef
  • Previously Aslef rejected a 4.2% pay offer and vowed to go on strike 

Scotland’s left-wing leader Nicola Sturgeon today bowed to the demands of unions threatening to bring the county to a standstill, as nationalised train operator ScotRail agreed to a 5% pay rise for train drivers.

While the rest of Britain is held to ransom by militant barons threatening the biggest walkouts in decades, chief among them RMT ‘fat cat’ hardliner Mick Lynch, train drivers’ union Aslef and ScotRail struck a deal to avert further travel chaos for millions of people.

Previously Aslef rejected a 4.2% pay offer and vowed to go on strike, in a dispute which saw 700 services cancelled after drivers refused to work on their rest days.

Now, ScotRail’s new offer would see pay increase by 5%, along with more money for rest day and Sunday working, driving instructor and maternity pay along with a policy of no compulsory redundancies for the next five years.

According to ScotRail, 2.2% of the increase will be funded by Transport Scotland with the remaining 2.8% coming from ScotRail’s coffers.

But issues on the rail network may continue in the coming weeks, with Aslef due to put the deal to its executive committee next Wednesday, before then going to its members, and ScotRail saying it could take as much as 10 days to return services to normal.

Kevin Lindsay, the union’s Scottish organiser, triumphantly declared: ‘We are pleased that today significant progress has been made in our latest round of talks with ScotRail. All these proposals, we believe, represent a breakthrough and significant progress and is a recognition of the vital role our members play for society and the economy. 

‘The full Aslef negotiating team is recommending acceptance of the offer to our members through a referendum subject to executive committee approval.’

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon during First Minister’s Questions at the Scottish Parliament in Holyrood, Edinburgh on June 9, 2022

File image of a ScotRail train waiting at the platform at Edinburgh’s Waverley Station

David Simpson, service delivery director at ScotRail, said: ‘We’ve made a really good offer which recognises the cost-of-living challenges faced by families across the country and delivers good value for the public.

‘The feedback we’ve had from many drivers is that they recognise we have made a series of very good offers and we are pleased they will get a say in a referendum.

‘The railway plays a vital role in growing the economy and connecting communities. Now more than ever we all need to work together to attract more people to the railway as we recover from the impact of the pandemic.’

It comes as Labour’s Lisa Nandy caused chaos in the party after she said they are ‘on the side’ of workers joining June’s crippling rail strikes and praised the unions for helping ‘really struggling’ staff including drivers who earn up to £70,000-a-year. 

Shadow levelling up secretary Ms Nandy has broken ranks with Labour’s leadership including Sir Keir Starmer, who has dodged the issue so far. Several backbench MPs said they backed the RMT ‘100 per cent’ with Corbynista Richard Burgon demanding ‘more mass protests, demonstrations and strikes’.

Speaking on ITV’s Good Morning Britain, she said: ‘We want to avoid the strikes and we’re on the public’s side on this. We’re also on the rail workers’ side. They’re dealing with the same pressures that everyone else is – the cost of food, the cost of soaring inflation rates, taxes going up, and they’re really struggling to make ends meet.

‘They’re the people that we went out and applauded during the pandemic because they kept our services going and they’ve seen their pay in real terms attacked again and again over the last decade’.

But the row has also sparked red-on-red attacks from members who said Labour cannot support large-scale industrial action and win a general election. John Spellar, Labour MP for Warley, said of the 1980s: ‘The lesson from those years is that all the demos, protests and strikes didn’t get rid of a Tory Government – only a General Election win by an electable Labour Party’.

Salaries for train drivers are an average of £54,000-a-year, according to Glassdoor, which collates data from staff. Trainees begin on around £25,000, which doubles when they qualify. The most experienced drivers can earn £70,000 before overtime with some operators.

One Labour MP told MailOnline that senior party figures needed to stay out of the row over strikes – and Ms Nandy wading in would not help them in the polls.

How 1989 rail and Tube strikes caused chaos for commuters

By Harry Howard, History Correspondent for MailOnline 

In 1989, the country was gripped by a wave of strikes by railway and London Underground workers. 

In April 1989, a day-long wildcat Tube strike left hundreds of thousands of Londoners battling to get to work. 

Out of 470 tube drivers, 300 stayed away from work. The strike took place over demands for huge pay hike. 

The union boss who was orchestrating the strikes was Jimmy Knapp, who led the National Union of Railwaymen (NUR) and then the newly-formed RMT from 1990. 

The April strike was a sign of worse misery that was to come, with Knapp announcing plans to begin an indefinite Tube strike from May 8. 

British Rail – the state-run body that operated Britain’s railways – had made a seven per cent pay offer that was rejected by the NUR and other rail unions. 

In 1989, the country was gripped by a wave of strikes by railway and London Underground workers. Above: Queues for buses and taxis du

Railway union bosses were also up in arms over a plan to end national wage bargaining. 

At the same time, bus workers were threatening to strike over demands for a 14 per cent pay rise.   

Another factor that was leading to threats by 12,000 Tube workers to strike was a proposal to allow promotion based on merit, rather than giving preference to staff who simply had a record of long service. 

In an attempt to avoid the one-day wildcat walkouts over pay, Tube bosses had offered a £30-a-week pay rise, plus two weeks’ extra holiday. 

The May 8 chaos was at least partly avoided when the High Court banned the Tube strike, because the ballot to members had been incorrectly phrased. Despite this scores of trains were still cancelled as workers downed tools illegally.

The Daily Mail covered the chaos imposed by rail and Tube workers with their strikes in 1989, which reached their peak in the summer before a pay deal ended the disputes

British Rail then tried to end their dispute with workers by paying them the rejected seven per cent rise. 

However, union leader Knapp insisted on pressing on with a series of random 24-hour strikes that would hit every week. 

Another court bid was launched in an attempt to stop the first of the strikes, which had been planned for the middle of June.  

But when the legal attempt failed, millions of commuters suffered travel misery. 

Along with a mass strike by railway workers, Tube and London bus drivers walked out in coordinated fashion. 

A woman stands on her car bonnet as she tries to see a way through traffic queues during another co-ordinated bus and tube strike in London in 1989

In an attempt to beat the strikes, all hotels in the centre of the capital were booked up by firms for their staff, with taxis and coach firms also recording record business. 

Trains from London to Scotland were totally shutdown, whilst the AA warned of a ‘journey into the unknown’ on the roads. 

The following month, successive one-day strikes by rail workers hit on every Wednesday, meaning there where four mass stoppages in four weeks, whilst Tube workers also had a mandate for up to three 24-hour strikes a week.

Tube workers ultimately carried out 13 one-day strikes since their dispute began in April.  

The chaos showed signs of coming to an end at the end of July, when Knapp said he would tell workers to accept British Rail’s pay 8.8 per cent pay offer. 

In August, Tube strikers did the same after accepting a 8.75 per cent increase in basic pay. 

‘It’s for the government to fix it but if you are a trade union official, do you really want politicians on the picket lines? It’s really an issue for negotiation’, the MP said, adding: ‘When I saw what the train drivers are earning, I’m thinking of retraining’.

Union barons stand accused of ‘holding the country to ransom’ having vowed to work together to ensure the disruption they cause in the coming weeks and months ‘will be unparalleled’ and timed to cause the ‘maximum possible disruption’ to Britons as they push for 10%-plus pay rises.

More than 50,000 members of the hard-left Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) working for London Underground and 13 rail operators will down tools on June 21, 23 and 25 – the largest walkouts since 1989. The strike is pencilled in for three days – but the disruption will last for at least six days.

Amid problems across the Tube this morning, Unite has said 1,000 of its members would also strike on the Tube on June 21, which will see most of the network shut down and millions of Londoners struggling to commute or forced to work from home.

Britons suffered a ‘half term from hell’ last week after major disruption at airports due to shortages of staff. Today it emerged that baggage handlers, check-in staff and ground staff at Heathrow and Stansted could choose to strike over pay and conditions this summer.

And more than 150,000 union members working for key services such as the Royal Mail and BT could choose to strike within the next week, all over pay.

Manuel Cortes, general secretary of the TSSA union, said: ‘The disruption will be unparalleled. I don’t think we will have seen anything like it since the 1926 General Strike. That’s the last time the three unions came out together. And we will coordinate our action. It’ll be a summer of discontent no doubt. If it comes to it, I’ll have a strategy in place that causes the maximum possible disruption.’

But Karl McCartney, Tory MP for Lincoln, told the Telegraph that unions are ‘holding the country to ransom’ and their left-wing bosses are ‘harking back to an age when they had a purpose and a reason to be hard-nosed and rough and ready with their pugnaciousness. But those days are long-gone’.

The Government has been slammed for failing to keep its manifesto pledge and bring in legislation that will ensure a minimum train service of around 30% during strikes, which is already mandatory in France and Spain.

Commuters will be encouraged to work from home during the train strikes as contingency plans may involve complete overnight shutdowns – as the biggest rail strikes for more than 30 years are planned for June.

Mick Lynch, who enjoys £125,000-a-year in pay and benefits as chief of the hard-left Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT), dismissed public anger on Wednesday over plans for 50,000 rail workers across the country to strike on June 21, 23 and 25 – the largest walkouts since 1989 – warning that more strikes would follow if a row over pay and job cuts was not resolved.

The strikes will disrupt work, school and events for millions of people, with students who miss their GCSE exams set to be given a grade that takes ‘circumstances beyond their control’ into consideration, it has emerged.

Ministers and Network Rail are now putting contingency plans in place which would see freight trains prioritised over passenger services to prevent blackouts in some areas and ensure supermarket shelves and petrol forecourts remain stocked.

Multiple-day strikes could lead to lights going out in places due to freight services to power stations being hit, ministers have been told.

Although a blanket ban will not be issued by train operators, passengers will be advised to ‘not travel unless it is absolutely necessary’ despite three in four adults in Britain now travelling to work at some point during the week – up from two-thirds a month ago.

The strike is another blow to travellers who are already facing a summer of chaos at airports due to staff shortages.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson led the calls to get people back into the office following the Covid pandemic, having claimed recently that working from home is not working.

Mr Johnson told the Daily Mail: ‘My experience of working from home is you spend an awful lot of time making another cup of coffee and then, you know, getting up, walking very slowly to the fridge, hacking off a small piece of cheese, then walking very slowly back to your laptop and then forgetting what it was you’re doing.’

The contingency plans include a total shutdown of passenger rail travel before 7.30 am or after 6.30 pm during the three days of industrial action, planned for the 21, 23 and 25 June.

However, the network is likely to be a slimline basic service affected from June 21 to 26 – with priority given to freight services, reports The Times.

A senior rail source told the newspaper: ‘We are managing people’s expectations down very firmly. Services will be extremely limited and we’ll need to massively reduce hours of operation while keeping freight moving.’

Meanwhile, union barons were accused of a ‘strike first, negotiate second’ approach on Tuesday after ordering crippling walkouts despite being offered a pay increase for their members.

Network Rail negotiators offered the hard-Left RMT a pay rise of at least 2 per cent, it can be revealed.

The offer is not far off the 3 per cent pay rise ministers last year gave to NHS staff who were on the front line of the battle against Covid.

Negotiators said RMT workers could get an even bigger increase if the union agreed to start discussions on modernising work practices.

But rather than continue talks, on Tuesday the union’s bosses ordered tens of thousands of members to strike on June 21, 23 and 25.

Ministers and Network Rail are putting contingency plans in place which would see freight trains prioritised over passenger services to prevent blackouts in some areas and ensure supermarket shelves and petrol forecourts remain stocked.

Multiple-day strikes could lead to lights going out in places due to freight services to power stations being hit, ministers have been told.

The strikes have left Britons furious as it will effect a series of upcoming events this summer, including the Glastonbury Festival between June 22 and June 26. That week will also see England play New Zealand in a Test match in Leeds, the British Athletics Championships in Manchester, and gigs in London’s Hyde Park by Sir Elton John (June 24) and The Rolling Stones (June 25).

There will also be a Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in London on June 24 and 25 and it is Armed Forces Day on June 25.

National Rail has been forced to suspend the sales of advance tickets for the strike days until emergency timetables have been finalised – meaning the UK’s railway network, already handed £16billion of taxpayers’ money to keep it going in the pandemic, is being starved of more funds.

And South Western Railway, which runs services to some of Britain’s busiest stations including Waterloo and Clapham Junction, today laid bare the impact the strike will have on the 1.6million passengers that use their trains each day.

Furious concert-goers are now rightly asking ‘how the f**k do we get to Glastonbury’ as they lashed out at Lynch on Twitter over his ‘chaotic’ and ‘nonsense’ plot. 

One reveller tweeted: ‘Rail strike on June 25 when I’m darting from London to Sheffield to Bristol to Glastonbury is a nightmare… what the hell?!’. Another said: ‘Train strikes at the end of the month to affect people going to Glastonbury. I’ve come back to absolute chaos and nonsense’. A third posted: ‘Union scumbags now called rail strike over Glastonbury weekend’.

One reveller raged: ‘Ouch @GWRhelp @networkrailwest train strike during @glastonbury that’s not going to end well for anyone #railstrike’. Another called the train strike ‘crazy’, while one person said they would cancel their trip: ‘Can’t go now. No trains not risking it’.

And seeming to sum up the mood of the nation, one person tweeted: ‘Feeling sad after all that is going on in the world that the rail unions want to spoil Glastonbury for people looking forward to it for three years – by stopping trains – we need more joy in the UK, not strikes’.

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