Edinburgh Trams staff could strike over festival in pay row

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Tram workers are set to vote on strike action during the Edinburgh Festival in a row over pay, sparking fears of summer ‘chaos’.

The drivers’ union said it expected members to back strike action after they overwhelmingly rejected a ‘derisory’ offer from Edinburgh Trams.

It’s a further blow to public transport already hit by the biggest rail strikes for 30 years.

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Unite said it is ‘immoral’ bosses pocket bonuses while some workers are forced to use foodbanks and others can’t afford to put fuel in their car to get to work.

Edinburgh Trams controversial boss Lea Harrison could see staff strike in AugustEdinburgh Trams controversial boss Lea Harrison could see staff strike in August
Edinburgh Trams controversial boss Lea Harrison could see staff strike in August

Managing Director Lea Harrison was named last year as the recipient of Britain's biggest public sector bonus payment.

He received a bonus of £48,895 in the financial year 2019/20 after overseeing a dramatic increase in paying passengers before the Covid-19 pandemic.

Now fed-up tram drivers, ticket sales assistants and controllers will hold a ballot on a walkout, which if it goes ahead, would start on August 4 – the day before the Edinburgh Fringe kicks off.

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The vote comes after 97 per cent of members rejected an offer of a one-off payment and further pay rise of 4% next year.

Another proposal was made by Edinburgh Trams of a 5% increase this year and a further rise of 4% in 2023.

But Unite, which represents 165 workers employed by Edinburgh Trams, notified bosses yesterday that a ballot will go ahead on Wednesday, June 29.

The formal consultation will conclude on July 20.

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Lyn Turner, Regional Officer for Unite, said: “We are looking for a substantial pay increase for our members in response to the cost of living crisis.

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“Many of them are struggling to put fuel in their cars to get to work and others are using food banks. It’s immoral, when bosses are getting big bonuses.

“Edinburgh Trams is a municipal transport company and they need to do the right thing by their workers. Their offer was derisory and below inflation.

"With a one hundred per cent turnout 97 per cent rejected the offer. Then another offer was made verbally but when we got it in writing it was less.

“I fully expect our members to vote for strike action. So far the attitude has been negative. We are willing to meet bosses at an independent venue to thrash this out with ACAS.

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“But we’ve had no response on that. Edinburgh Trams have been nominated for Public Transport Operator of the Year award. I’d ask them to forget the awards table and get round the table to negotiate a pay that our workers deserve.”

Both Transport for Edinburgh and Edinburgh Trams are owned by Edinburgh City Council.

Lothians MSP Miles Briggs said: “This is awful given the ongoing disruption we are already facing to train services and problems that is causing.

“It raises wider concerns about the airport and what it means for holidaymakers and visitors, especially during festival time.

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“We seem to also have less taxi capacity as the industry suffered during the pandemic.

“If we don’t have trams running it could be a summer of chaos. The city could grind to a halt. I think Edinburgh Trams need to be mindful of this and make sure they get around the table and do all they can to avert industrial action. Strikes should be a last resort.”

Sue Webber MSP said: “The threat of industrial action is the last thing the Edinburgh Fringe needs hanging over it as it prepares to make a welcome in-person return after three years.

“Edinburgh’s economy has already taken a major hit with the SNP’s shambolic running of the trains and the RMT holding the country to ransom this week.

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“Everyone involved in this dispute needs to get back round the table and ensure that this action does not go ahead.

People must be reassured they will be able to freely attend Fringe events and businesses in the Capital get the boost they so badly need.”

Lea Harrison, Edinburgh Trams Managing Director, said: “We are disappointed to learn that the union is to ballot its members on industrial action just days after agreeing to meet with us for further discussions on the latest improved pay offer.

“Our proposed settlement includes a five per cent increase this year and a further rise of four per cent in 2023.

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“This takes into account the union’s preference for an agreement that would see any increases calculated as a percentage of overall salary, rather than one which includes stand-alone payments or enhanced terms and conditions.

“These proposals follow above inflation pay rises over the last six years, including during pandemic. During this period we have done everything we can to support our employees, maintaining job security and avoiding redundancies.

“As we continue to emerge from the pandemic, our focus must be on delivering a sustainable service and we are saddened that the union is taking this course of action when presented with a fair pay offer that recognises the challenges faced by employees whilst ensuring the financial stability of the company, therefore protecting jobs in the long term.

“Clearly we remain open to further talks, subject to reasonable proposals from the union, aimed at working towards an agreement that avoids any unnecessary industrial action and the resulting impact on services for our customers.”

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