MINISTERS have been strongly criticised for a lack of action after it was confirmed strikes will go ahead that it is claimed will bring the nation's railways to a standstill during 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow.

The union Unite has confirmed the series of 24 hours stoppages will take place in the coming weeks and through COP26 over what it called the "reckless" actions of ScotRail, which is operated by the Dutch state transport operator Abellio.

The union says it is a response to the failure by Abellio Scotrail to make a meaningful pay offer, despite industrial action short of a strike taking place since 24 September.

The move comes the day after the First Minister said she hoped to get a resolution over the dispute.

Railway bosses have been warned that the action by 250 engineers alone, who provide maintenance, overhaul and repair services for the railway rolling stock would bring the nation's railways to a standstill.

Unite Scotland, who represent the engineers, say that if their safety critical work is not carried out, then the nation’s railway network will not be able to effectively operate.

RMT union bosses have separately said they will ballot more than 2,000 members – including conductors, ticket inspectors and drivers – on whether they would support strike action.

It comes after six months of dispute between ScotRail and staff unions over pay and conditions, which has severely disrupted services on a Sunday, forcing many to be cancelled.

The strike confirmation comes as talks to avert action form other workers was due to be held on Tuesday.

The Unite strike will involve engineering workers in a series of 24 hour stoppages on days which also coincide with the COP26 climate change conference being held in Glasgow between October 31 and November 12.

The days scheduled for 24 hour strike action are October 18-19 and November 1-2, 10-11 and 12-13, A number of rail depots, workplaces and outstations will be impacted by the strike action.

This includes Bathgate Depot, Corkerhill (Glasgow) Depot, Dalmuir, Glasgow Central, Glasgow Queen Street, Edinburgh Haymarket Depot, Edinburgh Waverley, Inverness Depot, Motherwell, Perth, Shields (Glasgow) Depot, and Yoker Depot.

The strike action will commence at different times on the aforementioned dates at the various locations.

Scottish Conservatives shadow transport minister Graham Simpson MSP attacked the Scottish Government for not doing enough to end the unrest as it seeks to take control of the railways from Abellio next year.

“The SNP have washed their hands of managing ScotRail with passengers suffering disruption for the best part of a year," he said.

“The SNP transport minister has had months to resolve this. However, all we have seen is the situation become more aggravated, more parties joining the strike and more issues for passengers.

“If the unions and ScotRail cannot resolve this, then it is the responsibility of transport minister Graeme Dey to get an agreement and get an end to these strikes.

“The inaction around this prolonged industrial dispute does not bode well for ScotRail being run by the SNP.”

Discussions with Abellio Scotrail management with the engineers have continued but Unite say that to date ‘no pay offer’ has been put to the trade union.

They say there has also been ‘no movement’ on a number of Unite’s demands including the reinstatement of the Rest Day Working Agreement for engineers who provide maintenance, overhaul and repair services for the railway rolling stock. Unite’s engineering members at Abellio Scotrail voted by 78% in support of strike action in a 68.4% ballot turnout. 92% supported taking industrial action short of a strike.

Pat McIlvogue, Unite industrial officer, said: “Unite has been left with no choice but to resolutely respond to the reckless behaviour displayed by Abellio Scotrail management.

"While discussions have continued these talks have produced absolutely nothing. There has been no pay offer and no movement by the company.

"The talks have been spun out and cynically used as a delaying tactic to avoid the national embarrassment of having strike action during the COP26 climate change conference which is being held in Glasgow. Well, these tactics have spectacularly backfired because our engineering members will now hold several 24 hour stoppages in the coming weeks.”

Disruption to travellers was further threatened after the RMT announced ScotRail staff were being consulted over potential during strike action after being offered no pay increase.

RMT members – who make up the largest part of ScotRail’s unionised workforce – have been recommended to back both a strike and taking action short of a strike “during the whole duration of the COP 26 conference”, which runs from November 1 to 12.

“We want the Scottish public to know that we have exhausted the process," added Mr McIlvogue. "Unite’s members have been holding action short of strike in an attempt to get Abellio Scotrail to wake up, and to recognise the storm that they have created to no effect. Now strike action will severely disrupt events and the COP26 climate change conference due to this shambolic company.

"The Scottish Government and Transport Scotland must urgently intervene because the Abellio Scotrail management clearly lack the ability, humility and intelligence to live up to their responsibilities with respect to the workforce, and the Scottish public.” Abellio’s turnover for 2020 at £917m was down from the previous accounting period, principally due to passenger income falling from £445.3m in 2019 to £360.4m.

Abellio claimed Covid-19 had had a “significant impact” on the financial performance of the company, despite the first UK national lockdown being announced just days before the end of the reporting period.

It was confirmed in March that a further £450m in emergency funding was expected to be given to rail operators until March, next year on top of the usual subsidies, after which Dutch state-owned transport firm Abellio relinquishes control of ScotRail. A confirmed EMAs (emergency measures agreements) has been put in place for £173m till September, 2021.

Some 97% of the emergency payouts go to Abellio-controlled ScotRail with the remainder going to Caledonian Sleeper, which is run by Serco.

In 2019/20, before the Covid-19 crisis, Scotland's railways cost the taxpayer £832.6m which is made up solely of subsidies of £476.9m to Abellio ScotRail, £13m to Serco Caledonian Sleeper as well as £355.7m paid directly to publicly owned Network Rail for the keep of the infrastructure, which includes the track and signals.

Transport Scotland said the the EMAs were originally required because of a "very significant shortfall in revenue due to an around 90% drop in passengers".

The Scottish Government agency said the extra money for the 2021/22 financial year is the result of "projections of expected revenue shortfalls" till September, 2021.

Then transport secretary Michael Matheson earlier this year said that ScotRail would come under public ownership run through an arm’s-length company controlled by the Scottish Government, declaring that the current system of rail franchising “is no longer fit for purpose”.

Mr Matheson said the move will come through "operator of last resort arrangements" after he decided it was not the right time to seek a franchise procurement competition to run Scotland's railways after Abellio ends it control in March, 2022.

It came a year after ministers announced it had stripped Abellio of the franchise three years early in the wake of continuing outcry over service failings and rising costs to the taxpayer.