Scottish Executive ‘will involve itself in rail disputes’

10 November 2005

Tavish Scott, the Liberal Democrat who represents Shetland and is the Scottish Executive’s Minister for Transport, has said he is determined to retain powers to • veto pay and conditions agreements reached freely between trade unions and private train operating companies • waive penalty payments incurred by private train companies in industrial disputes and • provide compensation to private train operating companies who have lost revenue through involvement in industrial disputes.

 

The Scottish Trade Union Congress (STUC) wrote to the Minister asking him how he viewed his responsibilities following the abolition of the Strategic Rail Authority, and its powers being taken over by the Scottish Executive.

 

ASLEF District Organiser Kevin Lindsay, a member of the STUC General Council, says the response from Mr Scott was ‘arrogant and aggressive’ – especially as one of the main concerns raised by the STUC was the amount of public money given to private companies to make sure they didn’t lose out if there was an industrial dispute.

 

‘The Strategic Rail Authority gave National Express £12.65 million because it lost money during an industrial dispute in ScotRail,’ Kevin says. ‘This is tax payers’ money, and they have a right to know where it is spent. Did the Scottish people really want to hand nearly £13 million over to corporate investors? Did they honestly want to pay up to ensure a huge company wouldn’t be inconvenienced if working people took industrial action?’

 

Mr Scott has in the past given commitments that he would work with the rail trade unions – but ASLEF suspects he is much more committed to working with rail employers.

 

‘It is a clear case of political bias,’ Kevin says. ‘Any industrial dispute involves two parties, but the Scottish Executive is prepared to compensate only one. If it can give money to companies inconvenienced by industrial action, it follows logically that they should give hard-up strikers a hand-out as well. The fact that this is not on the cards is clear evidence of the Minister’s bias.’

 

The STUC is considering how to respond to Mr Scott’s ‘employer compensation’ rules, but he has made the battle lines very clear. ‘This is ludicrous interference,’ Kevin says. ‘It seems we have to negotiate agreements with the company and then with the government. Then if the negotiations go wrong, the employer can turn to the Scottish government for financial backing.

 

‘This is not the local democracy that was promised with Scottish devolution. It is the opposite.’

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