Unite confirmed that a consultative ballot indicated 92% of its members support strike action at Scottish Water
By Bill Heaney
When your boss is earning £300,000 a year plus lavish perks while you are sloshing around in sewage, stinking mud and carelessly discarded condoms and and tampon containers on the Clyde foreshore at Dumbarton for one tenth of that money then it’s little wonder that you would become disgruntled with the pay and conditions at your work.
And when the question of strike action comes up, you would be first in the queue to put your hand up.
Scottish Water bosses Alex Plant and Douglas Millican – laughing all the way to the bank.
Scottish Water has been accused of “hypocrisy” by the Unite trade union, after some 500 frontline workers indicated their support for strike action.
Unite confirmed on Friday that a consultative ballot indicated 92% of its members support strike action at Scottish Water, on a turnout of 84%, while GMB union recorded 83% in favour from a 91% turnout.
Claire Greer, GMB Scotland organiser, said the ballot result was no surprise given the strength of feeling among staff.
It is in response to Scottish Water’s decision to issue a new pay structure, the unions said, and claimed the company is offering a below-inflation pay rise.
The unions’ next step will be to hold an industrial action ballot involving key frontline workers.
This includes waste water operatives, water treatment and burst repair operatives, maintenance engineers, electricians and sewage tanker drivers.
We have had more than our fair share of these in Dumbarton recently where volunteer Friends of the Foreshore have done a magnificent job in keeping the shore close to the Scottish Rocks and the Scottish Water sewage farm at Ardoch as clean as they can.
Both now comfortably retired on ‘golden parachute’ pension polices – Douglas Millican and SNP Environment Minister Roseanna Cunningham.
Unite’s regional coordinating officer, Stephen Deans, has accused Scottish Water of “hypocrisy” and “double standards” amid the escalating dispute.
He said: “The resolve of our members to fight against the hypocrisy and double standards gripping the upper echelons of Scottish Water is rock solid.
Unite has also accused Scottish Water bosses of bypassing collective bargaining processes involving trade unions, with the imposition of a new “reward system” being tied to the 2023 pay offer.
The union has also claimed that Alex Plant, the firm’s new chief executive, is on a salary of £295,000 per annum – reportedly £25,000 higher than his predecessor, Douglas Millican, and £50,000 above the Scottish Government’s public sector “fat cat” pay rules.
The policy expects a 10% reduction in the remuneration package over the outgoing appointment, according to Unite.
Mr Deans added: “Management is attempting to impose a new grading structure and pay offer, while simultaneously feathering the nest of the new chief executive in breach of the Scottish Government’s public sector pay policy.”
“It is unforgivable that the Scottish Government is deliberately ignoring this situation over executive pay. They will soon realise the essential role our members perform on a daily basis when we launch our strike ballot. Unite has absolute confidence that we will return a very strong mandate for strike action in the coming weeks.”
However, Scottish Water said Mr Plant’s salary package is in line with the public sector pay policy.
A spokesperson added: “We continue to seek negotiations with trade unions over a very fair and reasonable proposal to increase every employee’s pay by at least 8% and modernise our pay structure in a way that our colleagues are asking for.
GMB’s Ms Greer said: “Management has created this dispute by riding roughshod over every accepted procedure for negotiating with staff. Management now need to sort it out.
“They have tried to divide and rule. They have tried to sideline the unions and go to the workers directly with a partial version of their plans but the workers have seen right through it.
“Instead of acting like a rogue employer and creating needless conflict and uncertainty, the company should be engaging constructively to resolve this dispute.”
One unhappy GMB member said: “We need a bit of fairness here. We have big problems with sewage on the Clyde. The sewage works at Shieldhall were recently criticised by a consultant at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital for the sickly smell that patients have to put up with – and the ill effects of it – there and then we have the problems created with overspill at Ardoch in Dumbarton and Dalmuir in Clydebank.
“And the fact that huge lorries are travelling from Dalmuir through the busiest areas of West Dunbartonshire to a dumping ground in the hills at Auchencarroch in Vale of Leven. The smell would knock you down at times.
“The public are literally paying through the nose for water and sewerage services and deserve better from managers on these eye watering salaries.”
Meanwhile, it has been revealed that Scottish Water wanted to prepare hosepipe ban orders for three of the country’s water supplies after the summer drought meant that water levels dropped massively in parts of Scotland. This could have meant a hosepipe ban for some Scots, along with restrictions on non-essential use of water, like the cleaning of cars and buildings.
The stark warnings came following a very dry start to the summer which saw one public water supply drop to “alarmingly” low levels. In June, five areas of the country were put under the highest level warning for water shortages, with the Scottish Environment Protection Agency saying some rivers s had a “significant” water scarcity situation.
Scottish Water officials privately admitted that this could become a common thing due to climate change.
The public body splashed out almost £300,000 of taxpayers cash on the advertising campaign to urge Scots not to use as much water due to the drought. About £290,000 was spent on TV, radio and digital ads over the summer.