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COP26 summit disruption averted after pay deal agreed with rail workers

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Scotland’s rail operator agreed a pay deal with a railway workers’ union on Wednesday, averting a strike that had threatened to disrupt the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow.

The agreement between ScotRail and the RMT union removes the threat of national transport chaos during the climate gathering, which takes place from this weekend until November 12.

ScotRail had said it would withdraw its “final offer” of a 4.7 per cent pay increase over two years — and turn its focus to contingency plans for the strike — if RMT failed to accept the proposal by 5pm on Wednesday.

But a few hours later ScotRail, which is under franchise to Dutch railway operator Abellio until next year, accepted a counterproposal for a one-year 2.5 per cent pay increase that the union submitted at the supposed deadline.

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“Following further discussions between RMT and ScotRail, an agreement has been reached and the proposals have been accepted by the union,” Mick Lynch, RMT general secretary, said in a joint statement.

Ian McConnell, ScotRail chief operating officer, said he looked forward to “Scotland’s railway playing its part in delivering a successful COP26 next week”.

RMT had said it was deliberately targeting the COP26 meeting, seen as a crucial opportunity to rein in global warming, in order to gain leverage in long-running disputes with ScotRail over pay and conditions. Three other rail unions had already accepted the ScotRail offer.

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The deal erases the possibility of thousands of delegates to the gathering struggling to reach its Glasgow site for the talks each day.

About 25,000 people are expected to attend COP26, with many staying in Edinburgh and towns around Glasgow because hotels in the host city are almost full. The event’s UK organisers have been scrambling with logistics after the number of registrations came in higher than expected.

RMT is still threatening strikes disrupting services on the Caledonian Sleeper service, which runs between London and Scottish cities, over a separate pay dispute with operator Serco.

Scottish refuse workers also plan to strike during COP26, a move that will fuel concerns that Glasgow’s image will be clouded by filthy streets during the city’s moment in the global spotlight.

Disruption to public services during COP26 could be embarrassing for Glasgow and the Scottish government, as well as for the UK government, the summit’s official host.

Some workers have welcomed apparent support from climate activist Greta Thunberg, who wrote on Twitter on Monday that “everyone, especially the workers striking in Glasgow”, were invited to a demonstration in the city on November 5. “See you there,” Thunberg wrote.

Graeme Dey, transport minister in the Scottish National party-led devolved government, had faced calls to resign if the ScotRail strike went ahead. Dey, who had warned on Tuesday that the signs were “not optimistic”, welcomed the deal.

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“We are proud to have brokered and funded a deal which gives Scotland’s rail workers a decent pay rise and improved terms and conditions,” the minister said in a statement.

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