Jenny Gilruth appeared in front of Holyrood’s net zero, energy and transport committee on Tuesday, where she took questions on the row over reduced ScotRail services.
The train operator, which was nationalised in April, introduced a reduced timetable on Monday amid a pay dispute with train drivers union Aslef.
The row has led to drivers refusing to work overtime and on rest days, with ScotRail cutting more than 700 services across the country.
Committee member Monica Lennon said she welcomed the intention for the Scottish Government to have a good relationship with the trade unions, but highlighted press coverage on the RMT union accusing Ms Gilruth of lying.
The Scotsman reported Mick Hogg, the Scottish regional organiser of the RMT, said Ms Gilruth was “telling lies” when stating she wants to see unions and ScotRail get round the table to negotiate.
“They also say that the buck stops with you, minister,” Ms Lennon said.
“How can we be sure that the lines of responsibility are clear, and how do we get to a place very quickly where trade unions, that I know you respect, have confidence in you?”
The transport minister replied: “I’ve got to say, in terms of the respectful tone between Government and trade unions, the use of that word, I don’t find particularly respectful.
“I don’t think it’s accurate either. I spent a lot of time, as you know, at the start of my appointment with our trade union partners to try and bring them into the conversation about the future of Scotland’s trains.”
Ms Gilruth said she accepts responsibility as transport minister, but it would not be appropriate amid an industrial dispute for ministers to be part of negotiations.
Convener Dean Lockhart told Ms Gilruth that, in her words, the main reason for the nationalisation of ScotRail was to increase accountability to make sure ministers are held to account.
“Why aren’t Scottish ministers getting directly involved in this process to ensure we don’t see massive cuts to rail services in Scotland?” he asked.
“Two points, convener,” the transport minister replied.
“I don’t think that’s an accurate description of what’s been happening in recent days. On Friday, I spent a considerable amount of time with ScotRail, and yesterday I met with ScotRail, along with Mr [Bill] Reeve, to discuss some of the challenges around about the current situation.
“It’s not the case, though, that Scottish ministers are in the room.”
She added: “Drivers working on the rest days is a historic thing that exists in the rail industry. It’s not something that’s come into existence under nationalisation of our trains. It depends upon, primarily, good will of drivers.
“Aslef are in dispute with ScotRail. I totally respect that. They balloted their members on the pay offer.
“This is a separate issue, because drivers are choosing not to work on the rest days. Now, if drivers want to spend time with their families, or take part in leisure pursuits, then that’s in their gift, of course.”
“But it’s also the case that ScotRail can’t run as many trains as would usually be the case under the previous timetable.”