An MSP has said he hopes the ScotRail pay and conditions protest, which will mean the loss of a third of services, will be “sorted soon” as an economist warned the disruption could cost the economy as much as £80 million a week.
From Monday, the newly-nationalised service will cut 700 daily service after workers refused to work on rest days, a move which economist Tony Mackay told The Sunday Times could initially cost the Scottish economy between £75 million and £80 million every week.
Employment minister Richard Lochhead told the BBC’s Sunday Show he hoped it could be “sorted soon” and that while he understood employees wanted to negotiate pay increases, he warned: “It’s highly regrettable what’s happening, it will take a toll on the business community, the economy more widely, and not just in terms of passengers.”
He added: “This is a matter between ScotRail and the unions, and we’re urging them as hard as we can to get this resolved as quickly as possible.”
Mr Mackay said the initial cost would be from a combination of the fall in economic output and the extra money spent by travellers on things like taxi fares.
A typical ScotRail driver salary is more than £50,000, with drivers being offered a 2.2% pay rise and the opportunity to participate in a revenue share agreement which would take the total package to 5%.
The offers has been rejected by the unions Aslef and RMT, which described it as “derisory”.
Mr Lochhead told the BBC: “My message to all workers in Scotland and all these sectors is we have to be sensible, everything has to be affordable because the country’s in a very, very precarious position at the moment, and if we take wrong decisions we could end up with a recession in the near future, which will cause a lot of damage to people’s lives and local business in Scotland and our economy.
“It’s not for me as a minister to say what’s the right or wrong wage for a train driver or anyone else.
“But just to say that it’s really important that people are compromising, being constructive, and recognise the consequences of these disputes dragging on for too long.”
But Kevin Lindsay, Aslef’s Scottish organiser, hit out at his calls for people to be “sensible” over pay claims.
“From an Aslef point of view the most sensible thing that he could do right now is to tell ScotRail to get back to the negotiating table to settle this dispute so that the ridiculous timetable cuts that are planned for tomorrow can be withdrawn and our railways can get back to serving the public,” he said.
“It is not sensible to ask workers to accept 2.2% when inflation is heading north of 10% and it is not credible to blame workers for the state of the economy.”
Scottish Labour transport spokesman Neil Bibby described the interview as a “masterclass in desperate spin from Richard Lochhead”.
“The minister had no answers to the chaos engulfing ScotRail on the SNP’s watch,” he said.
“To claim that the Government cannot act is laughable. The Government run ScotRail, therefore they own these cuts and own this crisis.”