Railway workers for ScotRail and the overnight Caledonian Sleeper service will go on strike for two weeks during the COP26 conference, it was confirmed on Thursday after members of the RMT union voted overwhelmingly for strike action.
The announcement from the RMT union came with a vote confirming strike action by garbage workers in Glasgow if they do not receive an improved wage offer next week.
It is a nightmare scenario for the first minister, who is set to welcome world leaders, including US President Joe Biden, who also confirmed his presence at COP26 today.
Opposition politicians described the strike action as a “great embarrassment” and accused the SNP of letting COP26 fall into “pure chaos”.
Following the vote, ScotRail workers will go on strike from 1 to 12 November amid a dispute over wages and conditions, with an improved wage agreement put on the table by the train operator earlier this week.
It is understood that an offer of an initial 2.5 percent had been made back to April this year with a further 2.2 percent promised in April 2022.
Transport Scotland, the Scottish Government’s transport agency, said it expects this wage agreement to be put to a vote among RMT members again ahead of COP26.
Such a strike would mean that the railway network was crippled and unable to function, similar to the near-extinction of ScotRail’s Sunday services, which was linked to another dispute between workers and the operator.
RMT members on the Caledonian Sleeper service operated by Serco will also strike from October 31 to November 2 and from November 11 to 13.
Union general secretary Mick Lynch said: “Both ScotRail and Caledonian Sleeper have had sufficient time to come to a fair wage settlement for Scotland’s rail workers before Cop26.
“Instead, they kicked the can down the road and left us no choice but to start this action today.
“We know that these strikes will shut down railway services in Scotland, but the blame lies with Abellio, Serco and the political leadership in Holyrood.
“It is time for all parties to take their railway workers seriously, return to the table and give these frontline workers for our green transport services the justice, respect and reward they deserve.”
The union had previously announced the result of a poll in which 84 percent of more than 2,000 members backed several strikes over the ScotRail dispute.
At the same time, members of GMB in Glasgow voted for the summit during the summit, where 96.9 per cent supported a strike if there is no improved wage offer for waste workers from the Scottish Local Government Convention (COSLA).
Chris Mitchell of GMB called on the Scottish Government and Cosla to take further steps.
Speaking to members of Glasgow’s Bridgeton and Queenslie depots gathered behind him, he said: ‘We have a clear message for the Scottish Government and Cosla. We were called Covid heroes and important workers.
“It is when low-paid workers take a stand on Cosla and say enough is enough, because these heroes here deserve a pay rise. Stand with us, not against us. ”
Strike action threatened by railway engineers represented by the Unite trade union was put on hold after a new offer was made, with the vote closing on 25 October.
The union had said it would go on strike for several days during COP26.
Nicola Sturgeon faced criticism for “passivity” after the announcement from the RMT, in which the Scottish Conservatives said it had been causing “misery” for several months.
The party’s transport spokesman, Graham Simpson, said: “This is a great embarrassment for the SNP. Ministers should have resolved this dispute months ago.
“The SNP’s inaction has meant misery for passengers who have had to suffer major service disruptions during this year.
“The eyes of the world will be on Glasgow in a few weeks. World leaders and delegates arriving in the city to take steps to tackle climate satisfaction will be greeted by railway services that have stalled.
“SNP ministers must redouble their efforts as soon as possible and work with all parties to find a solution once and for all. These strikes now threaten to cast a shadow over COP26. ”
Neil Bibby, Scottish Labor’s transport spokesman, reiterated the criticism.
He said: “COP26 is falling into great chaos as the SNP’s working conditions collapse.
“It’s a shame for Scotland that the SNP can not even keep the trains running when the eyes of the world are on us.
“This conference was about preventing environmental disaster – and the SNP sets the stage by letting the trains stop and litter fill the streets.
“Railway workers were on the front line right through the pandemic, and the way they have been treated in return is shameful.
“The SNP must intervene to deliver a fair pay deal before their contempt for workers brings COP26 to its knees.”
In response to the announcement of the strike action, a spokesman for ScotRail said: “It is extremely disappointing that RMT has chosen to continue this highly damaging strike action, especially when a wage offer negotiated over several weeks has been given to the unions.
“We are seeing customers gradually return to Scotland’s Railway, but the scale of the financial situation facing ScotRail is strong.
“In order to build a more sustainable and greener railway for the future and reduce the burden on taxpayers, we need to change. All of us in the railway – management, staff, unions, suppliers and government – must work together to modernize the railway so that it is suitable for the future. ”
A spokesman for Transport Scotland added: “We welcome the constructive talks that have taken place between all parties.
“Employers have made a significant offer since this RMT poll opened, and we understand that RMT will now vote on its membership again on the content of this offer.
“We hope that RMT members and the other unions will agree and accept this offer and end existing and proposed industrial disputes and actions.
“Railway workers have played their part in keeping the country going with the pandemic, and we are sure they will see the significance of the moment and the role they can play in showing the best Scotland’s rail has to offer as we invite world leaders. Welcome from all over the world to COP26. ”
Scottish Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon said last week that she hoped the dispute could be resolved before Cop26.
She said: “I would strongly urge both sides of this dispute to return to the table and find a resolution that is in the interests of those who work in our railways.”