Edinburgh tram workers set to go on strike over bosses' ‘broken promise’ on pay deal

Trams in Edinburgh could grind to a halt later this month as more than 100 tram workers are set to go on strike in pay deal row.
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Union has served strike action notice on Edinburgh Trams warning workers are ‘incensed’ after bosses from the company allegedly backtracked on an agreed pay deal. It comes after a strike was called off in August when Edinburgh Trams bosses tabled a one-year pay deal, which was ‘overwhelmingly’ accepted by Unite members.

But now the Union claims that the company has reneged on a commitment to review sick pay for those with long term or critical illness and said it had no choice but to serve the company with strike action notice today (Wednesday).

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More than 100 workers including drivers and ticket assistants will take part in the industrial action set to go ahead from 17 to the 27 of November – during the Scottish Rugby autumn tests. It follows complaints from rugby fans taking the tram to Murrayfield for Scotland’s match against Australia last weekend, who said they were delayed by prolonged standstills.

Pic: Andrew Milliagan PAPic: Andrew Milliagan PA
Pic: Andrew Milliagan PA

Tram workers accepted the ‘reasonable’ offer of pay rise in August of between 6.5 and 11 per cent equivalent, based on current staff pay grade. Two previous offers were rejected by workers and one branded ‘derisory’ by Unite after the pay claim was first submitted in November 2021

As part of the agreed one-year deal, company sick pay for tram workers was to be reviewed with proposals to increase to six months full pay for long-term and critical illness followed by six months’ half pay. Currently workers off on long term sick only get 6 weeks full pay only. However, the pay dispute erupted again and despite discussions over the past few weeks Unite said Trams chiefs were ‘adamant’ that they couldn’t afford the costs of implementing changes to sick pay.

Unite Regional Officer Lyn Turner branded it unacceptable that the company has reneged on it’s commitment to review the scheme. He and claims the costs would be lower than the executive bonus payments dished out by the transport ALEO. Managing Director Lea Harrison was handed a 16 per cent increase on his £150,000 salary this year plus a bonus of £16,000 on top, which the company denied was a bonus and claimed it was an ‘incentivisation payment’. Unions slammed the bonus as ‘appalling’ in the cost of living crisis amid claims some frontline tram workers were using foodbanks due to low pay.

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Mr Turner told the Evening News: "Today we served a strike action notice to Edinburgh Trams. After signing a pay deal reached in good faith senior management has broken their promise on that part of the deal. Our members are incensed. It’s totally unacceptable and leaves us no choice but to serve notice of strike action. We still have an active mandate for this, following our ballot at the end of July.

"What annoys me most is that the sick pay review wasn't a sticking point back when we signed the deal. Now all of a sudden they are moving the goalposts.

"It’s disappointing given that the review would help ensure people who are genuinely unwell are properly supported. If you are a tram driver or ticket sales assistant you can’t work from home if you get sick. We want to see a policy that supports people in their time of need. I would have thought that a municipal company would want to protect their employees as much as they can.

"It’s baffling that they say the cost would be too high. They are adamant on that. Yet the company already pays for it because they don’t bring in employees to cover when people are off sick. And the cost would likely be far lower than the executive bonus scheme. It’s surely a matter of priorities. If there is no agreeable solution on this presented to us after weeks of discussions, then we have no choice but to proceed with strike action.”

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An Edinburgh Trams’ spokesman commented: “We are sincerely disappointed that Unite has decided on this course of action, having previously accepted a generous pay increase and enhancements to terms and conditions that were overwhelmingly accepted by colleagues.

“As promised, we have been in further consultation regarding the additional points for review, and we have made progress in all areas. However, the Union is now demanding further improvements to sick pay that are simply unaffordable for the network as it continues its recovery from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Despite these unrealistic demands, we will continue to talk to the Union and colleagues with a view to reaching an amicable agreement that will avoid unnecessary disruption for our customers.”

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