Page last updated at 13:08 GMT, Friday, 31 October 2008

Thousands poised to go on strike

By Steven McKenzie
Highlands and Islands reporter, BBC Scotland news website

Railway station timetable
Railway services were disrupted during October's strike by signal workers.

Thousands of workers in Scotland are being balloted on pay deals, or on taking industrial action.

About 30,000 public service employees and Maritime and Coastguard (MCA) personnel will join colleagues across the UK in strike action on 10 November.

The following day, a ballot of some of Scottish Water's 3,600 staff on taking industrial action over pay closes.

Meanwhile, unions will make an announcement on 17 November on whether council employees walkout again.

Gregor Gall, Edinburgh-based professor of industrial relations at the University of Hertfordshire, said the number of disputes were similar to previous years, but a higher number were involving strike action.

He said the reasons behind this included public sector employees feeling they had suffered enough below inflation pay increases.

STRIKES FACT FILE
April's action at Grangemouth led to the closure of the Forties North Sea oil pipeline and saw shortages of fuel at petrol stations.
Maritime and Coastguard Agency personnel previously walked out in March and August.
Reduced railway services were available when signal workers took action in October.
Local authority staff staged a walkout in August and September.

Prof Gall added: "Because inflation has just gone above 5% the gap between pay offers and inflation is now greater.

"A third factor is the uncertainty about whether there will be job cuts because of what is happening to the economy and workers are not prepared to make any sacrifices or accept less than what they should get."

In Tayside, firefighters are to be asked if they want to take industrial action over 16 jobs losses and holiday entitlement.

A ballot is due to begin on Monday.

If the action is approved, the fire crews will not go on strike, but will look to turn their current unofficial overtime ban into an official one.

This week Stagecoach transport group workers, who were due to walkout on Thursday in the first of a series of one-day stoppages, suspended action while a new deal was put to members.

Drivers and support staff were due to receive ballot papers with details of the deal on Friday.

While not considering industrial action at this stage, the GMB union said health service workers were asking for fresh pay negotiations because of a rise in inflation.

However, Unite members within the health service are currently being balloted on whether to accept the pay offer after initially rejecting the three-year deal made by government.

Unite members are also involved in the Scottish Water ballot.

Chris Wallace, the utility company's director of communications, said: "We obviously hope union members do not take industrial action as we believe this would be damaging to the longer term interests of Scottish Water and its workforce.

"We are in discussion with the unions and will continue to collaborate with them."

NUMBERS INVOLVED
5.2% - current inflation figure. The next figure is due on 18 November.
150,000 - the approximate number of GMB, Unite and Unison members involved in local authority pay dispute.
30,000 - the approximate number of public service and Maritime and Coastguard Agency staff expected to strike in Scotland on 10 November.

This year has seen strikes by workers at the Grangemouth oil refinery, fuel tanker drivers, MCA staff, Network Rail employees, civil servants, court staff and firefighters at Highlands and Islands Airports Limited.

The pensions dispute involving the refinery workers and the airport firefighters' pay row were now thought to have been resolved.

The PCS union said action by public service and MCA staff would involve 30,000 members in Scotland and about 260,000 across the UK.

Local authority employees are being balloted on a 3% pay rise this year and 2.5% in 2009.

The unions involved have recommended rejecting the offer and recommencing industrial action.

Unions, including the GMB and others representing nurses, have said rising inflation should be the trigger for a "reopener clause" in workers' three-year pay deal.

Greater activity

Action by Stagecoach staff in north east Scotland and the Highlands was averted at the last minute on Wednesday afternoon.

Councils had warned of disruption to school bus services.

In Aberdeenshire, 4,000 children were expected to be affected along with pupils of 18 schools in the Highlands.

Jimmy Farrelly, of Unite, said this year had seen greater activity than usual because workers were prepared to take industrial action over "unfair pay and conditions".

He said the credit crunch was also playing a part with people finding their earnings not going as far as they had previously.

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SEE ALSO
Bus staff suspend strike action
30 Oct 08 |  North East/N Isles
Scotland hit by rail staff strike
07 Oct 08 |  Scotland
Council workers in strike action
25 Sep 08 |  Glasgow, Lanarkshire and West

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