Nicola Sturgeon has offered Scottish rail workers an inflation-busting pay rise in a move that risks sparking similar demands across the rest of the UK.
The SNP government has signed off on a 4.7pc salary increase for staff at ScotRail – more than one-and-a-half times the rise offered to nurses and doctors earlier this year for their efforts during the pandemic, and above the 3.2pc increase in consumer prices.
The proposal – put forward by operator ScotRail, but ultimately funded by British taxpayers – is an attempt to break the deadlock in a bitter industrial dispute with unions ahead of next month’s Cop26 climate change summit in Glasgow.
But it will strengthen the hand of workers across the rest of the UK, who are in the middle of a two-year pay freeze.
The increase north of the border may still not be enough. Bosses from the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union urged members not to back the proposals and are holding out for more.
Scottish Conservatives MSP Graham Simpson said: “Nicola Sturgeon and her SNP government are clearly feeling the pressure of Cop26 looming with strikes set to take place. This is a last-ditch attempt to redeem themselves.”
In January, the Telegraph revealed that rail minister Chris Heaton-Harris had written to UK rail operators saying that there was no additional money to pay for wage increases for two years.
Rises would therefore need to be funded by operators’ efficiencies, such as cutting jobs or services, he said.
ScotRail has little scope for paying for a wage rise. The network lost operator Abellio £67m last year.
The network has been blighted by industrial action for months, led by the RMT, in a row over pay and working conditions.
Mr Simpson said: “The Scottish public are desperate to see an end to these seemingly endless strikes. For months the SNP have insisted that ScotRail simply doesn’t have the money to pay for this sort of salary increase.
“Passengers will see through this façade. The SNP appear to have suddenly found the money to avoid an embarrassment on the world stage, but have been unwilling to do the same for passengers who have suffered months of disruption.”
A spokesman for ScotRail said: “We’re seeing customers gradually return to Scotland’s Railway, but the scale of the financial situation ScotRail is facing is stark.
“We have made a formal written offer to all four rail trade unions to find an agreement on pay and conditions and they are taking that offer to their executives.
“To build a more sustainable and greener railway for the future and reduce the burden on the taxpayer, we need to change. All of us in the railway – management, staff, trade unions, suppliers, and government – need to work together to modernise the railway so that it is fit for the future.”
A spokesman for the Scottish government said: “A significant offer has been made by ScotRail and we hope that union members will agree and accept this offer.
“Rail workers have played their part in keeping the country moving through the pandemic and we are sure that they will see the importance of the moment and the role they can play in showing the best Scotland’s Railway has to offer as we welcome world leaders from across the globe to COP26.
“The case was and still remains that there has simply been no additional funding available to underpin a pay rise in the absence of some challenging discussions around efficiencies and innovations.”