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Strikes go on as wages become battlefield in cost of living crisis

© Supplied by ShutterstockScottish money over radiator.

Train passengers across Scotland faced further disruption this weekend as rail staff continued industrial action amid a wave of industrial action linked to pay demands.

A UK-wide walkout by members of the RMT union crippled services yesterday with ScotRail warning schedules would continue to be affected today. Around 40,000 Network Rail workers have been taking part in the strikes over pay after inflation and the cost-of-living crisis triggered ballots on industrial action.

While the dispute does not involve ScotRail staff, the industrial action has a knock-on effect for services in Scotland as Network Rail staff occupy critical safety roles. David Simpson, ScotRail’s service delivery director, said: “Customers should check their entire journey in advance to make sure their train is running.”

The RMT claimed yesterday that train companies at the heart of the long-running dispute have made hundreds of millions of pounds in profits since the UK Government put them on new contracts when the Covid-19 pandemic hit.

The union accused Westminster of blocking a deal and said that while rail workers had their pay frozen over the same period, private train operators made £310 million in taxpayer-funded profits between March 2020 and September 2022.

The UK Government denies it is blocking a resolution, insisting it is facilitating talks between employers and the unions.

Thousands of teachers in Scotland will also stage a two-day walkout this week in a dispute over pay. Members of the EIS, NASUWT, SSTA and the AHDS trade unions are due to strike.

Staff in primary schools will walk out on Tuesday followed by secondary school teachers on Wednesday. Schools across Scotland are expected to shut during the industrial action.

The Scottish Government has insisted there is “potential scope for compromise” following talks with teaching unions in a bid to prevent further strikes.

The Scottish Negotiating Committee for Teachers (SNCT) will meet tomorrow to discuss pay deal options. Unions dismissed a 5% increase, arguing for 10%. The offer includes rises of up to 6.85% for the lowest paid staff.

Scottish Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville said talks with unions on Friday were “constructive and helpful”. However, Des Morris, EIS salaries convener and chairman of the teachers’ side of the SNCT, said strike action would proceed in the absence of a new and improved offer.

As the cost of living crisis deepens, Universal Credit deductions will also leave thousands of Scots families struggling despite a promised benefits uplift, a leading charity yesterday warned.

The move, announced by the UK Government, could see the average household on Universal Credit £25.49 better off each month.

But Citizens Advice Scotland warned the uplift could be cancelled out because of deductions, which typically relate to advanced payments – where applicants have to wait a minimum of five weeks for their first payment but can take an advance to get help sooner. The advance is paid back across future payments.

The Department for Work and Pensions said: “We recognise the pressures of the rising cost of living, which is why the government is offering up to £1,350 of direct help to those most in need in 2023/24 on top of £1,200 to over eight million vulnerable households this financial year.”