Unite, Scotland’s leading trade union, confirmed on 27 October that its 500 strong Scottish Water membership will take 48 days of strike action over three months in a significant development in the escalating dispute.
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The first round of strike action will begin at 00.01 hours on 10 November and end at 23.59 hours on 13 November with the last round starting at the same time on 26 January and ending on 29 January. Every round of action begins on a Friday and ends on a Monday evening which represents four full days of action over twelve weeks.
The significant escalation in the pay and grading dispute follows Unite’s emphatic mandate for strike action by 89 per cent at Scottish Water. The trade union’s membership includes waste water operatives, water treatment and burst repair operatives, maintenance engineers, electricians and sewage tanker drivers.
The dispute centres on Unite accusing Scottish Water bosses of bypassing long-standing collective bargaining processes involving trade unions. This specifically relates to a new ‘reward system’ which Scottish Water bosses are trying to impose on the workforce which is also being tied to the 2023 pay offer.
Unite general secretary Sharon Graham, said: “Unite’s 500-strong membership at Scottish Water has sent a crystal clear message to management that their behaviour will no longer be tolerated.
"Scottish Water has created this mess through their own arrogance and insatiable greed in the boardroom despite it being a public body. Unite will fully support our members in the fight for better jobs, pay and conditions at Scottish Water. Be in no doubt that we will hold management to account.”
Due to the key frontline roles undertaken by Unite’s membership in sewers, water treatment centres and on pipework, the trade union believes the strike action will significantly impair Scottish Water’s ability to respond to water leakages, flooding, pollution, and drinking water quality concerns.
In practical terms, this means burst pipe repairs on roads and highways would not be repaired by Unite members on the scheduled days of action. Unite members would also not be available to undertake work relating to any sewer flooding issues and the associated environmental impact of failing sewage works.
Wastewater pumping stations which cause spillages to rivers and water courses also will be impacted by the strike action. There would be a direct threat to the drinking water quality and a consequent risk to public health if responses to these situations were significantly delayed or left unattended due to staff being unavailable.
Stephen Deans, Unite regional coordinating officer, added: “Scottish Water has paid lip service to our major concerns over pay which is being tied to a proposed new grading structure.
"The talks which have taken place with Scottish Water management following our membership emphatically backing strike action have been in effect useless. Unite has therefore been left with no option but to serve notice of 48 days strike action over three months.”
“Unite’s membership includes key frontline workers who attend to and repair waterworks, flooding and sewers. If the action goes ahead due to the intransigence of Scottish Water management, then this will have major public safety and health implications.”
The strike action announcement comes at a juncture when Alex Plant, the new chief executive of Scottish Water, has come under fire for earning a reported annual salary of £295,000 in breach of the Scottish Government’s public sector pay rules.
Plant’s salary is £25,000 higher than his direct predecessor despite the pay policy expecting a 10 per cent reduction in the remuneration package over an outgoing appointment. ■