Tuesday, March 21, 2023
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SNP demands UK Government takes action, as Rail strikes in Scotland ‘could last months’

Tory ministers have been challenged to meet union bosses face to face in a bid to end the largest rail strike in 30 years.

The UK Government has so far refused to intervene in a dispute that caused 40,000 workers to walk out on Tuesday and around 90 per cent of passenger services in Scotland cancelled.

The RMT union has warned the row over wages and job lay-offs could last months.

Grant Shapps, the UK transport secretary, has insisted it is up to individual rail firms to settle the strike – despite Network Rail being publicly owned and funded by taxpayers.

The last train to Glasgow from London Euston departed at 1.30pm today, but most lines north of the border have seen no services at all.

Mainline stations across the country have been largely empty except for picket lines manned by the RMT union.

Some services will resume on Wednesday but industrial action will take place again on Thursday and Saturday.

Jenny Gilruth, Scottish Government transport minister, has today written to Shapps to claim his approach to the strike appeared to be “motivated by ideology rather than practicalities”.

ScotRail – which was brought under Holyrood control in April – is not one of the 13 rail operators across the UK which is involved in the dispute.

But services across Scotland have still been cancelled as they cannot run without the presence of Network Rail staff.

Gilruth said: “The failure of the UK Government to do more to encourage and enable a settlement of this pay dispute is concerning.

“The UK Government’s approach to the network rail dispute appears to be motivated by ideology rather than practicalities – I hope that is not your view.

“Network Rail workers in Scotland and across the GB rail network have not received a pay rise in over two years. I am sure you will agree that is not an acceptable or a sustainable position.

“I note your intention to ‘drive modernisation’ on the railways.

“Modernisation must not come at any cost and I will again reiterate the Scottish Government’s position on this matter, which is that we will not support any reforms which seek to impose compulsory redundancies.

“Railway staff worked on the frontline during the pandemic; now is a time to recognise those efforts, not to punish workers.”

Scotland has just five ScotRail services running on the days affected: two trains per hour on the Edinburgh to Glasgow via Falkirk High line, the Edinburgh-Bathgate line, the Glasgow to Hamilton/Larkhall line and the Glasgow to Lanark line, and one train an hour on the Edinburgh to Glasgow via Shotts service.

There was a reported spike in traffic congestion on Tuesday as travellers took to the roads instead.

Boris Johnson told a meeting of the Cabinet that reforms are vital for the rail industry and those who work in it.

He said: “I say this to the country as a whole, we need to get ready to stay the course.

“To stay the course, because these reforms, these improvements in the way we run our railways are in the interests of the travelling public, they will help to cut costs for farepayers up and down the country.”

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch warned that the dispute could continue for months.

He said:”It is clear that the Tory Government, after slashing £4 billion of funding from National Rail and Transport for London, has now actively prevented a settlement to this dispute.”

The Department for Transport disputed Lynch’s clams, adding that it has cost taxpayers about £600 per household to keep the railway running during the coronavirus pandemic.

Roz Foyer, general secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress, was among those to join the picket line at Glasgow Central station.

She said: “I’m here to share my support and solidarity to all of the RMT workers who have taken strike action.

“These workers are not only striking for pay, justice for themselves and families – they’re striking for the future of our rail services, they’re striking for safety of the general public, and they’re striking against a Tory agenda that is affecting the whole country.

“Tories don’t have an ounce of credibility left and they have no right to call ordinary decent working people selfish.”

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