Talks between ScotRail and union officials on Saturday morning failed in less than one hour, increasing the likelihood that staff will strike in the run-up to Christmas. The strikes are scheduled to start on Friday evening for 24 hours and on Sunday evening for another 24 hours. Essentially, the actions will affect rail services on Saturday 22 December and Monday 24 December, Christmas Eve.
Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union members are supporting Scott Lewis, a former ticket inspector who was fired after an issue about the type of ticket a traveller was using. The union says Lewis was attempting to ensure the passenger was using the right ticket and was let go for making unwanted contact with the traveller. The members voted 2:1 in favour of the strikes last month, and the row has remained in a deadlock.
RMT union general secretary Bob Crow has called for Lewis to be immediately reinstated, saying the inspector has been victimised and dismissed for trying to help a passenger. His actions were within the procedures written out in ScotRail’s policies. The union arrived at the talks on Saturday to find that the company wasn’t ready to discuss the problem at the core of the row, which is the sacking and reinstatement of Lewis. They have been led on by ScotRail, which has no intention of holding meaningful talks. As a result of their actions, he added, union members still plan to strike.
ScotRail says that the strike is clearly an attack on travellers during the holidays. A spokesman said it’s very disappointing that the negotiations failed to result in a solution. The union wants the former inspector to be reinstated, he noted. During the strike, the company will put contingency plans into motion to reduce the impact on travellers, so most of their services will certainly run. The spokesman added that the company is available for more meaningful talks any time.
In other strike news, the RMT union has called off industrial action against Northlink Ferries as a ‘gesture of goodwill’. Action had been planned for 23 and 30 December on the Orkney-Scrabster and Shetland-Aberdeen services. This was to follow strikes on Friday over a row with operator Serco about the threat of job cuts.
Crow said that the support shown by their members on Friday was clearly demonstrated. However, their members are conscious of how the action is affecting the island communities, especially during the holidays. They have kept talking with the company and have made significant progress. Serco has been asked for several assurances, which have been met. In an effort to continue this process, they have agreed to suspend the coming strikes to allow for more talks. If no more sufficient progress can be made, he added, they won’t hesitate to issue a notice of intent to immediately take action.
MSP Liam McArthur welcomed the suspension of the strikes following the disruption on Friday. The remaining issues between the companies and unions can be settled through negotiations, he said. These should be carried out without penalising local businesses and islanders, who rely on the ferries.
MSP Tavish Scott added that the strike on Friday shouldn’t have happened, as the economy needs these ferry services. He trusts the RMT union will make the needs of the island communities their top priority in the future. He believes the action is linked to the Scottish government’s tendering of ferry services in the Hebrides and the union’s dispute with ScotRail. This is beyond him since the Northern Isles aren’t connected to these issues.