HUNDREDS of ScotRail engineering staff have voted in favour of industrial action as pay talks have collapsed with operator Abellio.

The Unite union announced the result of a ballot of its members who returned a vote of 78% in favour of strike action on a turnout of 68.4%.

The percentage who voted Yes to take strike action exceeded more than half of the membership and some 92% of those balloted supported taking industrial action short of a strike.

Industrial action is now expected to take place from the middle of September.

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Unite said the vote to support industrial action is a result of a failure by ScotRail - operated by Dutch firm Abellio - to make a meaningful pay offer as well as the company withdrawing a number of entitlements from workers including the Rest Day Working Agreement with Unite in April 2020 for engineering workers. Abellio initially withdrew it for drivers but later reinstated it. 

Abellio has claimed they are under instructions from the Scottish Government not to award any pay rise to rail workers.

 In April 2020 the Scottish Government put in place an Emergency Measures Agreement (EMA) which made a temporary variation to the ScotRail franchise agreement. 

Unite has submitted a number of demands to Abellio ScotRail including a substantial increase in pay, greater flexibility of holidays, the introduction of no compulsory redundancies and the reinstatement of the Rest Day Working Agreement, which have all been rejected by the company. 

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Pat McIlvogue, Unite industrial officer, said: “The mandate Unite has received from its members at Abellio Scotrail is an indictment of the company's behaviour and attitude towards its workers.

"The reality is the working relationship between Unite, and for that matter all trade unions, with Abellio is virtually non-existent. Unite’s members have had their terms and conditions cut, while Abellio also refuse to offer a decent pay rise.

"The ballot result is the inevitable outcome when workers are treated with no respect. Abellio has a final opportunity to get back round the table to meaningfully and positively resolve this dispute. If they do not then strike action, and action short of strike, will start from the middle of September.”

Abellio will now stop running the ScotRail franchise at the end of March next year when Scotland's train services are set to be run by a public sector body.

Abellio’s turnover for 2020 at £917m was down from the previous accounting period, principally due to passenger income falling from £445.3m in 2019 to £360.4m.

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Abellio claimed Covid-19 had had a “significant impact” on the financial performance of the company, despite the first UK national lockdown being announced just days before the end of the reporting period.

ScotRail have said that they have a "clear message" for Unite members that there is "no extra money".

They added that they have only survived the pandemic due to emergency taxpayer support which has allowed them to protect jobs without the use of furlough, cutting wages or reducing benefits.

A ScotRail spokesperson said: “It’s extremely disappointing that the engineering members of Unite have voted for this highly damaging strike action.

“Although we are starting to see customers gradually returning to Scotland’s Railway, our financial position is precarious and strike action is wrong at a time when we need to deliver a safe and reliable service.

“We need to provide stability for our staff and customers and Unite is wrong to disrupt services instead of working with ScotRail to address the grave long-term challenges facing the rail industry.”