The Herald

Scotrail to slash 700 services a day as industrial unrest spreads

Drivers’ dispute escalates while teachers and civil servants also threaten to strike

- By Andrew Quinn and Martin Williams

SCOTRAIL has announced it will slash nearly 700 services a day in a bitter pay dispute with drivers as Scotland’s industrial unrest intensifie­s with civil servants and teachers now threatenin­g to strike.

The rail operator, which was nationalis­ed last month, said that the indefinite move has come as a result of the drivers’ pay dispute, which has seen more than 900 train cancellati­ons in the last 11 days.

Now the weekday timetable has been cut by a third from 2,150 services to 1,456, in a move which will impact train users right across Scotland.

It means the first service from Aberdeen to Edinburgh will now arrive at 9:35am, more than an hour later than its current time of 8:33am.

The first train from Aberdeen to Glasgow, which usually arrives at 8:32am, will now arrive more than an hour and a half later at 10:13am.

Late night trains in the Central Belt will also be affected with the last train from Edinburgh to Glasgow leaving at 10:15pm, which is an hour and a half earlier than currently.

Transport Minister Jenny Gilruth blamed train drivers for the service cuts, saying the move was the result of some drivers not taking up the option of working overtime on Sundays and on rest days.

The train drivers union Aslef said this was the product of Scotland’s railway always being “understaff­ed”, meaning it is relying on drivers working out of hours, including Sundays, as the services are based on a six-day week rota, not seven.

A summer national rail strike is moving closer with the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) and Aslef in a series of pay disputes with both

Scotrail and Network Rail, the owners of the infrastruc­ture, including signals and tracks.

The RMT has announced it is balloting its members over industrial action, with the aim of disrupting the Edinburgh Festivals, if Scotrail does not improve its pay offer and conditions.

Ms Gilruth spoke after Scottish Conservati­ve MSP Russell Findlay questioned her on what was going on.

“At this rate they’ll have more ferries than trains,” he said. “This will cause absolute misery for passengers up and down the country. Minister, do you share Scotrail’s view that the unions and drivers are to blame and, if not, who is responsibl­e for another calamitous chapter in SNP’S nationalis­ed rail?”

Ms Gilruth said: “Mr Findlay is correct, that due to some drivers not taking up the option of overtime Sunday and rest-day working, Scotrail has announced today plans to run a temporary reduced timetable from May 23 to give a more stable and reliable service for passengers.”

She added: “But, again, I would just appeal to trade unions who, of course, campaigned so strongly for public ownership to come back to the table to negotiate an agreement so we can deliver on the timetable expectatio­ns.

“The situation will be kept under review. I think it is worth saying that without Covid and the impact on training, Scotrail would have seen an extra 130 drivers by this point.”

David Simpson, Scotrail service delivery director, said: “We are very sorry to customers for the disruption of recent days. We know what customers want more than anything is certainty and reliabilit­y, which is why we are introducin­g a temporary timetable.

“We want to resolve this dispute with the trade unions and move forward together to provide the safest, greenest, and most reliable railway we can for Scotland. We remain open to further talks with the trade unions.”

However, disruption on the transport network is set to be widened to schools and other public services as civil service and teaching unions also threaten industrial action.

The Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) is considerin­g a national strike over the UK Government’s plans to cut 10,000 civil servant jobs in Scotland.

The union’s National Executive Committee submitted an emergency motion yesterday to next week’s annual conference proposing a campaign to defend members’ jobs, which would include taking industrial action when appropriat­e.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “The civil service needs more staff, not less. We will defend every single job, not just on behalf of our hard-working members, but on behalf of every member of the public who relies on the services they provide every day.”

Last week, the UK’S top civil servant said the Government wants to cut up to 91,000 civil service jobs across the whole of the UK to save money. The aim is to return to 2016 staffing levels within three years, Cabinet Secretary Simon Case said in a letter to civil servants.

The Educationa­l Institute for Scotland (EIS) also announced yesterday that it had rejected a 2% pay rise offer from the Convention of Scottish Local Authoritie­s (Cosla).

The union, which has 60,000 members, said if there is no improved offer, there could be an “industrial dispute”.

General secretary Larry Flanagan said: “The EIS, and other teaching unions, have rejected the 2% pay offer tabled by Cosla today. With UK inflation now at 9%, employers will have to come back with a substantia­lly improved offer to satisfy Scotland’s teachers and avoid escalation to industrial dispute.

“Teachers deserve a fair pay rise that properly reflects the impact of the cost-of-living crisis.”

A Cosla spokesman said: “We are in active discussion­s with our trade union partners regarding their pay claim.”

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