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ScotRail and RMT exchange angry broadsides as strike row heats up ahead of further action in the Highlands this Easter weekend

By Philip Murray

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ScotRail has warned of disruption to services.
ScotRail has warned of disruption to services.

RAIL passengers in the Highlands face further strike disruption this Easter weekend, after the RMT confirmed that it would push ahead with its latest Sunday industrial action.

The union is in a dispute with ScotRail over overtime payments for conductors, and has strikes planned for six consecutive Sundays. The first of these took place last weekend.

And the RMT has now confirmed that the second day of disruption will take place on Easter Sunday after the union and rail franchise bosses could not come to an agreement.

The bitter dispute has also seen the union accuse ScotRail of "declaring war" on its workers, after comments from rail bosses before the first strike saw it question staff for not only taking action during the middle of a pandemic but also for disrupting journeys for front-line workers – such as NHS staff.

Confirming Sunday's second strike, the union said it had received "no apology from ScotRail for a despicable and aggressive social media campaign slandering their own staff for taking action that's been forced on them during the pandemic", adding that it was ScotRail's own front-line workers "who have kept trains running at huge personal risk while ScotRail bosses have been able to retreat to a place of safety".

RMT General Secretary Mick Cash said: “I have no doubt that our ScotRail members will continue to show full support and stand shoulder to shoulder during the days of industrial action exactly as they did last Sunday.

“Abellio ScotRail is a company that has opted to declare war on their staff rather than recognising the issues at the heart of this dispute and the company have resorted to disgraceful mud-slinging and deliberate provocation.

“Staff at the front-line who have put themselves at huge risk during this pandemic will take no lectures from company bosses who have kept themselves well clear from danger and who are now seeking to squeeze every last penny out of the dying months of this franchise.

“Those profits and fat management fees are being extracted off the backs of their staff and RMT have made it clear that we will not allow ScotRail to divide the workforce in this cavalier fashion.

“All we are demanding is that ScotRail do what is fair and honour an enhanced rate for rest day working for all grades.

“The union remains available for meaningful talks aimed at settling this dispute.”

During Sunday's strike, services could be disrupted on the Kyle Line, Far North Line, Inverness-Aberdeen route, and the Highland mainline. Rail passengers are being asked to check www.scotrail.co.uk before travelling to see if their planned departure is affected or not. Refunds are also available.

David Simpson, ScotRail Operations Director, said: “A strike about an increase in overtime pay in the middle of a global pandemic is wrong, and is forcing many key workers to find alternative and much less convenient ways of travelling to work.

“The railway is in the middle the biggest financial crisis in its history and the government has made it clear there is no extra money available over and above the nearly half a billion pounds in emergency funding we have already received.

“The people who will suffer most because of this strike are those key workers who depend on trains to get into work to perform their life-saving duties.

“Rather than taking action that puts people off using the railway, we all need to work together to attract more passengers to our services and start getting money in the door again. That’s the only thing that will provide genuine long-term job security for our staff.”

ScotRail added that it "is proud to provide high-paid and highly-skilled jobs, paying excellent salaries and benefits to our employees".

It added that it had previously agreed an emergency measures agreement (EMA) with the Scottish Government, which will continue until at least September, and "means ScotRail can continue to operate services for key workers and keep its 5200 staff in secure jobs".

"However, due to the industrial action being taken by RMT conductor members, the train operator says it will not be able to provide the same level of services for essential workers over the next five Sundays."

Related news: ScotRail warns customers of ‘significant travel disruption’ during strike action

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