500 Unite key frontline workers vote in pay and grading dispute

Unite, Scotland’s leading trade union, has today (18 September) confirmed its 500-strong Scottish Water membership are voting on strike action in an escalating dispute over pay and a new grading system.

The strike action ballot comes at a juncture when Alex Plant, the new Chief Executive of Scottish Water, has come under fire for earning a reported annual salary of £295,000 in breach of the Scottish Government’s public sector pay rules.

Mr Plant’s salary is £25,000 higher than his direct predecessor despite the pay policy expecting a 10 per cent reduction in the remuneration package over an outgoing appointment. 

The trade union has further accused Scottish Water bosses of by-passing long-standing collective bargaining processes involving recognised trade unions. The new ‘reward system’ which Scottish Water bosses are trying to impose on the workforce is being tied to the 2023 pay offer. 

The ballot opens on 22 September and closes on 16 October.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham, said: “Scottish Water is a public body in breach of the Scottish Government’s public sector pay rules. The new Chief Executive has received an eye-watering pay package, yet these same bosses refuse to award their skilled and dedicated workers a fair pay offer. It’s double standards. Unite will fully back our members in their fight for better jobs, pay and conditions at Scottish Water.”

Unite’s membership includes waste water operatives, water treatment and burst repair operatives, maintenance engineers, electricians and sewage tanker drivers. 

Due to the key frontline roles undertaken by Unite’s membership in sewers, water treatment centres and on pipework, any future strike action would directly impair Scottish Water’s ability to respond to water leakages, flooding, pollution and quality concerns.

Earlier this month Unite members in a consultative ballot emphatically indicated support for strike action by 92 per cent on a high turnout of 84 per cent. 

Stephen Deans, Unite regional coordinating officer, added: “Scottish Water bosses have dragged their feet over everything except boardroom pay packages. There has been no meaningful movement by Scottish Water to resolve this dispute, which has left us no choice but to ballot our membership.”

“The Scottish Government also has questions to answer but they have for a change remained strangely silent despite their own public sector pay rules having been broken over chief executive pay. We are completely confident that a very strong mandate in support of strike action will be returned. This could see widespread strike action happening by the end of October which would impair Scottish Water’s ability to respond to any crisis.”