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Glasgow 2014: Strike vote threatens buses, subway

Staff at bus firm First Glasgow and the Glasgow Subway will vote to strike just three weeks before the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games. Picture: TSPL

Staff at bus firm First Glasgow and the Glasgow Subway will vote to strike just three weeks before the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games. Picture: TSPL

  • by ALASTAIR DALTON
 

STRIKE ballots were announced today by the union Unite at two of the major transport operators for the Commonwealth Games - bus firm First Glasgow and the Glasgow Subway, operated by Strathclyde Partnership for Transport.

The votes close on 30 June - just three weeks before the event’s opening ceremony.

The ballots are over a dispute about a pay offer and sick pay among engineers at the bus company, and over Subway staff not being offered extra money for additional work during the Games.

Buses and the Subway travel are seen as crucial in moving up to an extra 250,000 people a day around Glasgow during the Games, with spectators being given free travel.

The Scotsman has learned that some ScotRail staff have been offered to an extra £275 for running additional trains during the Games.

Unite said the operators had shown “total contempt for their workers and are trying to milk what should be a memorable event for Glasgow on the cheap”.

It said 150 engineers at First Glasgow had been “outraged” to have been offered a 0.5 per cent pay rise “with a further 0.4 per cent on the basis of accepting an inferior sick pay allowance”.

The union said that would make them “the poor relations of the First Bus family in Scotland”.

It said 270 Subway workers had been told they would not be paid extra for the “increased work and flexibility demands” during the Games.

Unite said SPT was also “pushing on with unpopular shift patterns in the face of long-standing unrest”.

Regional industrial officer Eddie Duffy said: “Unfortunately we’ve been brought to this point by an absolute failure of management at FirstGroup and SPT to properly consult with and recognise the value of their employees.

“FirstGroup are actually imposing a real-terms wage cut on its Glasgow engineers while attempting to bait them with a further derisory increment in return for slashing sick pay rates - it’s Dickensian at best.

“SPT have simply gone AWOL, offering workers absolutely nothing for the increased demands they will have to undertake during the Games, and they are now stonewalling our attempts to seek a reasonable resolution.

“Quite frankly, with the world coming to town next month, both companies have shown total contempt for their workers and are trying to milk what should be a memorable event for Glasgow on the cheap.”

Mr Duffy said the Subway workers were aware of the extra pay offered to staff at ScotRail - which is also run by Aberdeen-based FirstGroup.

The ScotRail bonus has been negotiated with Unite, the RMT, which includes train conductors, and the TSSA, which includes station staff. Discussions are continuing with Aslef, which represents most train drivers.

Mr Duffy said the ballot results would be known on 30 June.

A ScotRail spokesman said: “We welcome the agreement with the RMT and look forward to providing the most extensive train timetable that Scotland has ever seen for the Commonwealth Games.”

Unite said any walkout by bus engineers would affect both First Glasgow services and more than 800 Games shuttle buses for spectators and officials operated by sister firm First Games Transport, which will run at up to every 20 seconds between venues.

The RMT confirmed it had secured the agreement for “recognition and reward payments” at ScotRail.

Acting general secretary Mick Cash said: “After long and detailed discussions between RMT negotiators and ScotRail, we are pleased to be able to confirm that we have secured an agreement which will properly reward all staff involved in delivering services throughout the Games with payments of up to £275.

“It is only right that those carrying the pressure of operating services against a backdrop of intense demand are recognised and the deal that we have now signed off does just that.

First Glasgow managing director Fiona Kerr said: “We are extremely surprised and disappointed that Unite has decided to ballot its engineering members for industrial action.

“We have serious concerns that union officials have failed to properly consult with their members.

“Despite receiving two formal offers to date, the union has not conducted any consultative ballots to allow their members to properly express their views. This is completely at odds with well established custom and practice.

“Nor have they sought to bring in [conciliation service] Acas to help us reach agreement. Officially balloting members at this stage is premature at best.

“We are operating in a very challenging market in Glasgow, put under extra pressure by cuts in funding and increasing costs. In the last two years we have taken the hard decisions to close a depot and to implement a two year wage freeze for many of our drivers. We are simply not prepared to fund a pay award by asking customers to pay higher fares.”

An SPT spokeswoman said: “It is simply not true that staff will lose out on pay. SPT has made it clear that any Subway staff requested to work additional hours will be paid in line with their current terms and conditions.

“We are also not sure why certain staff are being balloted for possible industrial action as they have not been requested to work additional hours during the Games.

“However, it is incredibly disappointing that Unite is threatening to jeopardise the transport arrangements during the largest multi-sport event Scotland has ever hosted.

“We would urge Unite to consider the impact on customers and potential damage to Glasgow’s welcoming reputation and call off the ballot.”

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