Scotrail dispute: a view from the shop floor

Posted in Off The Rails's blog on Fri, 04/12/2020 - 19:19,
Scotrail station

This is a "shopfloor" view of the ongoing dispute between Abellio Scotrail and its employees. It should be noted, though, that the majority of RMT members did not want to take this action, especially at this time. However, like most dealings with private, for-profit companies, nothing is ever that simple.

Historically, we send a pay claim to the company around October/November of the year previous to the year we are looking for a rise. This was done in 2019 for the 2020 pay talks. The company asked in January for some time to look through the proposed deal, which the union agreed.

Informally the company stated that a figure of 2.7% may work for them. It was pointed out to them this was an effective pay freeze, due to the current CRI/RPI and inflation rates. I stress, I was told that this was done informally over the phone, and not in any boardroom.

Unfortunately things dragged on, and then the first lockdown was announced, and again the company asked for an extension to the talks, which was agreed by the union as a justifiable reason for delay. When things started to improve and the skilled use of Zoom became the normal way to do things, RMT asked for a meeting to be convened, but this was refused because the negotiating over money had moved to Transport Scotland, according to the company, and they were not allowed to enter into pay talks without permission, again according to the company, they asked, but were refused permission.

Then came the onset of Emergency Measures Agreements, and the company stating that all financial decisions were not theirs to make, and when it does revert back to them they would have to see the amounts given to them through those measures before they could enter pay talks. The union agreed to delay until October, which was the date for the details of the EMA to be give, but this was then extended until January 2021.

Now, I know on paper this all sounds very basic, and on the face of it, fair. However, our sister union had the second part of a two-year deal, brokered in 2019, which included a payment of £1500 productivity award (bonus) which was honoured, quite rightly, in October of this year. The company then went on and extended this group of workers' Rest Day Working payments, amounting to £375 for turning up to cover a shift on their Rest Day. Again, this is not something that the RMT has any control over. The company explained that if they did not pay this grade (drivers) their payment, the trains would not run.

This caused outrage amongst every other grade, because the company had stopped all overtime and refused to extend the Rest Day Working payments for all of us outside of this one particular grade. There were complaints to the union, and the matter was raised, but a decision was taken that the pay talks must resume before the negotiations for Rest Day working payments could be discussed. The union tried on several occasions to resume talks, but were met with the same stock answer, "it is out of our hands." If this was the case, why did they have the permissions to extend the bonus payments to our sister union's grade, the drivers? RMT informed Scotrail that all of its represented grades were now in dispute.

This lead to one of the senior managers of Scotrail posting that all RMT members should think twice about taking any action, because the public would not thank us if they did not get to work or to see family; that the company had done so well in redeploying and not furloughing anyone, that we should be thanking them that our colleagues still had jobs, and that we should all be grateful that any of us still had jobs to go to, but to remember, that if the passengers do not return, then this would not always be the case.

Another senior manager then put out a tweet on the passenger Twitter account, telling passengers that there was a chance that RMT members would vote for action which would directly impact them. They then went on to tell them that they were proud that they had such highly paid people working for them, and then went on to show two salaries of different (only higher paid workers) grades. One of these he explained, was "likely" to be £36k+ a year, but he did not tell them that this is with overtime and anti-social shift payments, all of which was removed earlier in the year! This did not have the desired effect, because the public complained in their droves about disclosing salaries and that the company were trying to turn the passengers against the staff, which could and would lead to verbal and physical attacks.

Again our members were outraged! The mood about taking action for a pay rise, which initially was 50/50, increased dramatically after these two events. This was felt by the company too, because there was a statement from yet another manager, explaining that these comments were not what the compatofelt, and they even had Zoom-type sessions with the offending manager to try and calm the outrage. This did not work. If anything, the contempt the company showed to hundreds of its staff, who had all worked through the pandemic, even covering other roles, just to make sure that everything was cleaned properly and that passengers could travel safely became more obvious.

I do not know what the result of the ballot will show, but my colleagues deserve their pay rise! They have worked tirelessly since March, making sure there was a service for the other key workers to get to and from their work, which kept our loved ones alive, our families fed, our children educated, our streets clean and the whole country running. To be told by our private, for-profit company that some of its staff deserve huge increases on their pay, but the rest of us, which includes some of the hardest-working, yet lowest-paid grades, do not, is disgusting, and can not be tolerated.

That is why we are in dispute!

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