Nicola Sturgeon makes first intervention in Network Rail dispute to urge UK transport secretary Mark Harper to immediately help find solution

Nicola Sturgeon stepped into the national rail dispute for the first time on Wednesday to call on UK transport secretary Mark Harper to immediately intervene to help reach a solution as a series of Christmas strikes looms.

The First Minister said passengers in Scotland faced “severe disruption”, while Network Rail staff involved in one of the disputes had the prospect of going into the New Year with no pay increase.

Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union employed by the UK Government-owned track and signalling body will walk out from 6pm on Christmas Eve until 6am on Tuesday December 27. Network Rail said trains across Britain would stop running from around 3pm on Christmas Eve, with the action also forcing ScotRail to cancel its normal Boxing Day services, including in and around Glasgow.

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Another dispute involves RMT members at 14 England-based train operators such as Avanti West Coast and LNER, where more strikes have been called for January 3, 4, 6 and 7. Network Rail staff are due to walk out on those days too.

RMT members at Network Rail are striking over pay and conditions. Picture: John Devlin

Ms Sturgeon – like transport minister Jenny Gilruth before her – stressed Scottish Government-run ScotRail had managed to settle disputes with its unions this year far quicker and more amicably.

She said: “The Scottish Government has maintained constructive discussions with the trades unions and settled our own pay negotiations by embracing the concept of fair work. Despite this, passengers in Scotland still face severe disruption as a direct result of the ongoing UK-wide rail dispute between Network Rail, UK Government rail operators and the trades unions, and Network Rail employees in Scotland face entering the New Year still with no pay rise.

“The repercussions of this dispute, and the UK Government’s refusal to engage constructively with the trades unions, are continuing to have a major impact not only for the rail workers, but for passengers, freight, businesses and the wider public in Scotland over the festive period and into 2023. The Secretary of State for transport must intervene immediately and work with the trades unions to secure a railway that benefits users, staff and the wider public.”

STUC general secretary Roz Foyer criticised the “combative approach to negotiations taken by the UK Government”, which she said had led to the protracted dispute.

She said: “We all want to see an end to the rail dispute, and for workers to be awarded a fair pay offer that is not conditional on cuts to staffing and services. In Scotland, workers have already agreed their pay claim, but we are still seeing widespread disruption on our railways.

“The rail unions and Scottish Government have come to a negotiated settlement and we need the UK Government to take a similar approach that results in workers at Network Rail and other UK Government-controlled rail companies getting the deal they deserve.”

But a spokesperson for the UK Department for Transport said: “The [UK] Government ensured two very fair pay deals were on the table, but the RMT rejected them and, instead, opted to prolong its disruption. The Government and industry have played our part and we now urge the unions to play theirs.”

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