ScotRail could face a shutdown during the Cop26 climate conference if union members vote to support further strike action over a pay dispute.
RMT union bosses say they will ballot more than 2,000 members – including conductors, ticket inspectors and drivers – on whether they would support strike action.
It comes after six months of dispute between ScotRail and staff unions over pay and conditions, which has severely disrupted services on a Sunday, forcing many to be cancelled.
But the escalation by the RMT would see drivers, conductors and ticket inspectors walk out for the first time.
ScotRail strikes could cause ‘transport chaos’ at Cop26
One rail source said Scotland’s railway would likely “come to a halt” if RMT members back the move.
The strike action could also affect travel during the global Cop26 climate conference in Glasgow, with the RMT confirming it would schedule the strike to take place during the conference if its members vote yes.
RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: “Today’s ballot announcement has been forced on us by the deliberate time wasting by Scotrail and Transport Scotland.
“This issue should have been sorted by now and we should have had a fair and just offer that recognises the hard and important work of our members.
“The union will be campaigning for a massive yes vote and we remain available for talks.”
ScotRail said it is frustrating the RMT has chosen to ballot members on strike action, which they say will be counterproductive.
A spokesperson for the operator said: “It’s extremely disappointing that the RMT has opted to ballot for this highly damaging strike action, particularly when talks are ongoing.
ScotRail: Unions ‘wrong’ to take disruptive 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 RMT is wrong to take a ballot of disruptive action instead of working with ScotRail to address the grave long-term challenges facing the rail industry.”
Neil Bibby, Scottish Labour’s transport spokesperson, said such a situation would be an “international humiliation” for Scotland.
“It’s looking increasingly likely that the SNP’s disregard for workers is going to cause chaos at Cop26 – that would be humiliating for the Scottish Government.
“Rail workers were on the frontline throughout the pandemic, keeping services running for all of us. In return they’ve been treated with total contempt.
The SNP must stop blocking a fair pay deal and prove to us that workers’ rights will be a priority for the new publicly owned ScotRail
– Neil Bibby
“The sooner ScotRail is out of Abellio’s hands the better – but the SNP’s track record shouldn’t fill anyone with confidence.
“We’ve seen flagrant hypocrisy from the SNP, who loudly condemn pay freezes from the Tories while quietly inflicting them on rail workers.
“The SNP must stop blocking a fair pay deal and prove to us that workers’ rights will be a priority for the new publicly owned ScotRail.”
Scottish Greens transport spokesman Mark Ruskell said the situation risks causing chaos during Cop26.
“It’s vital that management get round the table with the RMT and resolve this matter urgently,” he said.
“It has dragged on for far too long and risks causing transport chaos at Cop26,” he said.
‘We would hope ScotRail staff and unions will understand the importance of the moment’
A Transport Scotland spokesperson said: “We recognise how hard rail employees worked during the pandemic to keep services moving for key workers.
“Through additional funding via the Emergency Measures Agreements we ensured that every employee received full pay throughout the pandemic – even at times when services and revenue had fallen by up to 95%
“Talks are on-going with many of the Trade Unions against a backdrop of significant financial challenges faced by the Government.
“There are reasonable offers on the table which, through meaningful discussions about efficiencies and innovations, could lead to a pay rise.
“Any cancellations, as the result of industrial action, not only have the potential to undermine the recovery of our rail services but also impact on vital revenue streams from ticket sales.
“While we support the right of every worker and union to engage with their employers to seek a pay deal, COP26 is Scotland and Glasgow’s chance to showcase the key role we see for rail in our sustainable future on a world stage.
“We would hope ScotRail staff and unions will understand the importance of the moment and will want to play their part in welcoming the world to Glasgow. We need all the parties to continue discussions and help identify solutions to this situation.”