Richard Lochhead, the minister for employment and fair work, told the BBC’s Sunday Show that workers should ask themselves whether their pay rise asks would be “affordable” and to compromise amid inflation nearing 10 per cent and a cost-of-living crisis.
It comes after the First Minister referenced the salary of ScotRail drivers in First Minister’s Questions on Thursday, with reports suggesting drivers involved in the pay dispute can earn up to £ 80,000.
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Widespread disruption on Scotland’s railways will begin on Monday with the implementation of a temporary timetable on ScotRail services due to an ongoing pay dispute with drivers who have stopped working overtime and on their rest days.
Reports suggest the dispute could result in a hit to the economy of around £ 80 million a week, with ministers stating the new timetable was the “opposite of chaos” and denied the disruption could last until 2023.
Asked whether ScotRail drivers earn enough, Mr Lochhead said workers in Scotland should consider the risks of a potential recession when asking for more money.
He said: “Well, my message to all workers in Scotland in all these sectors is that we have to be sensible. Everything has to be affordable, because the country is 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, local businesses in Scotland and the economy.
“It’s not for me as a minister to say what the right or wrong wages for a train driver or anyone else are, but just to say it is really important that people are compromising, they’re being constructive and they recognize the consequences of these disputes dragging on.
“I’d ask everyone to look at whether the country can afford what they are asking for.”
The minister for employment, just transition and fair work also defended the decision to take ScotRail into public ownership despite being unable to solve the dispute quickly.
The SNP politician said the problems around driver shortages would be “sorted in the coming months”.
He said: “It’s in public ownership, therefore it is operating not behalf on shareholders but behalf of the public interest in Scotland, but in terms of pay negotiations between employees and management, we are urging them as hard as we can to stay around the table, please get this sorted as quickly as possible, otherwise it is going to be counter-productive the longer it goes on. “
He later called on the UK Government to “urgently pull their fingers out of their ears” and act to help the public cope with the cost-of-living crisis and inflation hitting nine per cent.
Mr Lochhead said: “But quite clearly if you are facing higher food bills, rocketing energy bills, you’re clearly going to want that reflected in your salary, what you earn for a good day’s work.
“This is a very difficult situation that people are in, households throughout the country, as I’ve said before we are doing our best to help those on lower incomes and most vulnerable people in society from a Scottish Government perspective.
“The way to release some of this pressure is for the UK Government to finally act and do something about the energy bills and the other inflationary costs and to help upgrade the benefits by inflation as well that people are receiving.”