A winter of ‘severe disruption’ ahead for the Scottish Borders?

Photo: Michael Gillen.
Photo: Michael Gillen.

Contractors have been called in by Scottish Borders Council to keep the public safe and roads open during the winter months.

The move comes as Unite the union confirmed that its membership in the Roads Department at Scottish Borders Council (SBC) will ballot once again for industrial action.

The union’s members previously took 24-hours industrial action in August and held a rally outside SBC headquarters in opposition to detrimental changes being imposed to terms and conditions.

The mandate for an industrial action ballot is based on SBC drafting in contracted workers during the previous trades dispute, which is in breach of the collective agreement between Unite and SBC.

If successful, industrial action is likely to take place during the winter season when roads department workers are working long hours to ensure transport links and services are maintained in the Borders region.

Tracey Logan, chief executive of Scottish Borders Council, said: “Due to the ongoing industrial action by a small number of roads department staff in some of our depots, we have been in discussions with experienced contractors around the availability of resources so that we can meet our legal obligations this winter.

“We understand Unite plans to ballot relevant staff on extending the current industrial action to March next year.

“Bizarrely they are arguing this is because we are making use of contractors to fulfil our obligations as a category one responder under the Civil Contingencies Act – we are, but only because of the ongoing industrial action by Unite which has resulted in staff opting not to participate in the out-of-hours winter maintenance programmer.

“We now have well-developed plans in place with a number of contractors and believe there will be absolutely no impact on our normal service this winter.

In fact, the flexibility that these contractors provide has opened up opportunities to pre-treat roads differently in some areas, which may actually benefit more drivers, particularly those travelling earlier in the morning.

“Our contingency plans continue to make use of all legal means to ensure that not only is our winter service unaffected, but that any disruption to our day-to-day roads operations are absolutely minimised during this industrial action.”

She continued: “To reiterate previous statements, the Council has NOT changed terms and conditions for this staff group, nor have we failed to consult the trades unions or the staff affected.

“We discovered some months ago that a small number of staff in the roads section had been claiming a higher rate of overtime than they were entitled to under the agreed terms and conditions.

“They were also claiming for time to travel to work when working overtime, which again is not in line with the agreement in place.

“The only action we have taken is to remedy these unfair practices.”

Unite have accused the council of deliberately inflamed the situation through their use of contractors.

Willie Thomson, Unite regional industrial officer, said: “Scottish Borders Council risk a winter of severe disruption due to its reckless pursuit in cutting our members’ pay.

“At a mass meeting on October 15 our members unanimously voted to take action and they will imminently receive their ballot papers for industrial action.

“The council have deliberately inflamed the situation through their use of contractors to carry out work normally undertaken by our members during the industrial action in August breaching our collective agreements.

“Unite members are long served and have a wealth of experience in keeping the roads safe during the worst winter weather.

“We hope the public understand that these workers have been treated disgracefully by the council only because they have asked to be fairly rewarded for the work they undertake.”