Scottish Water workers vote to strike over pay and grading dispute

Unite union accuses Scottish Water of unfair treatment and bypassing collective bargaining

A majority of the over 500 Unite members with Scottish Water have voted to strike over a pay and grading dispute. The union claims that the company has refused to make a fair pay offer for 2023 and has imposed a new reward system that is tied to the pay offer. The union also accuses Scottish Water of ignoring long-standing collective bargaining processes and trying to force through changes without consultation.

The industrial action could take place in the coming weeks, unless Scottish Water agrees to negotiate with the union. The strike would affect key frontline workers, such as waste water operatives, water treatment and burst repair operatives, maintenance engineers, electricians and sewage tanker drivers. These workers are essential for maintaining the quality and safety of water supply and sewage disposal in Scotland.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “Scottish Water has got nobody to blame but itself for the mess it has created. It has refused to make our 500-strong membership a fair pay offer. Instead, the boardroom has found the time, to award its new chief executive an eye-watering pay package. Unite fully support members in the fight for better jobs, pay and conditions at Scottish Water.”

Scottish Water defends its proposal and says it is beneficial for all employees

Scottish Water has denied the allegations made by Unite and said that it has not been fully informed by the union of the results of their ballot. The company said that it remains committed to the conciliation process with the assistance of ACAS, the independent arbitration service. The company also said that it hopes to continue the talks with the union and achieve an outcome that is of benefit to all of its employees.

scottish water workers protest sign

The company said that its proposal is to reform its pay and grading structure to address many issues that its employees have raised. The company said that it is surprised that the union is resisting this reform, as it would increase every employee’s pay by at least 8% and make the structure more fair and transparent. The company also said that its proposal is not linked to the 2023 pay offer, which is a separate matter.

A Scottish Water spokesperson said: “We continue to seek negotiations with trade unions over what we consider to be a very fair and reasonable proposal. If agreed with our unions, this would increase every employee’s pay by at least 8% and reform our pay and grading structure in a way that our colleagues are asking us for.”

What are the implications of a strike for Scotland’s water services?

A strike by Unite members could have serious consequences for Scotland’s water services, as they are responsible for ensuring the quality and safety of water supply and sewage disposal. A strike could impair Scottish Water’s ability to respond to water leakages, flooding, pollution and quality concerns. This could affect millions of customers across Scotland, who rely on Scottish Water for their daily needs.

Unite regional coordinating officer Stephen Deans said: “Unite’s membership includes key frontline workers and without them Scotland’s ability to respond to any crisis stemming from waterworks, flooding and sewers is all but non-existent.”

A strike could also damage Scottish Water’s reputation and performance, as it is a publicly owned company that is accountable to the Scottish Government and Parliament. Scottish Water is expected to deliver high standards of service and efficiency, as well as meet environmental and social obligations. A strike could jeopardise Scottish Water’s ability to achieve these goals and fulfil its statutory duties.

How can the dispute be resolved?

The dispute between Unite and Scottish Water can only be resolved through dialogue and negotiation. Both sides have expressed their willingness to continue the talks with the help of ACAS, but they also remain firm on their positions. The union wants Scottish Water to make a reasonable pay offer for 2023 that is separate from the proposed new pay and grading structure. The company wants the union to accept its proposal as a package deal that would benefit all employees.

The challenge for both sides is to find a compromise that can satisfy their demands and avoid a strike. This may require some flexibility and concessions from both parties, as well as trust and goodwill. A strike would not only harm Scottish Water’s operations and customers, but also its employees, who would lose their wages and face possible disciplinary action.

The question is: can Unite and Scottish Water reach an agreement before it is too late?

By Ishan Crawford

Prior to the position, Ishan was senior vice president, strategy & development for Cumbernauld-media Company since April 2013. He joined the Company in 2004 and has served in several corporate developments, business development and strategic planning roles for three chief executives. During that time, he helped transform the Company from a traditional U.S. media conglomerate into a global digital subscription service, unified by the journalism and brand of Cumbernauld-media.

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