RMT union calls strike ballot at Virgin Trains East Coast

More industrial unrest on Scotland's railways erupted today with the RMT union announcing a strike ballot at Virgin Trains East Coast (Vtec) over 'jobs, working conditions and safety'.

Virgin Trains East Coast staff to be balloted for industrial action over job fears. Photo: David Parry/PA Wire

The vote at the Scotland-London train operator comes as travellers face an 11th walkout by the union at ScotRail on Sunday over downgrading conductors on new trains.

Nearly 2,000 Vtec staff will be balloted, including train managers (guards).

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A union spokesman warned: “Action would lead to wholesale cancellation of services”.

The RMT said the vote was over concerns jobs would be cut because Vtec, which is 90 per cent owned by Perth-based Stagecoach - had overbid for the franchise.

The company, which operates between Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Inverness, Glasgow and London, has repeatedly denied the claim.

The union said the dispute had been brewing for months but has to a head because the company bypassed the union and sent plans for cuts direct to staff.

A union spokesman said: “RMT is aware of talk within the industry that Virgin/Stagecoach seriously overbid for the East Coast franchise when the publicly-run service was kicked out despite being hugely successful.

“It is thought that Vtec’s incompetence means they are losing a fortune every week and are now looking to hack back on the staffing budget to try and prop up their position.”

The RMT said the operator had failed to provide assurances there would be no compulsory redundancies, pay rates would be protected and guards would remain on trains.

The guards issue is at the centre of both the ScotRail dispute, and another at Southern, south of London, which has led to large numbers of trains being cancelled.

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The TSSA union has also claimed 46 Vtec travel centre and station staff jobs will be lost, including in Edinburgh.

It said a strike ballot “cannot be ruled out”.

The RMT ballot will be launched on Tuesday and close on 9 August, with one week’s notice required for any industrial action.

A union spokesman said: “The company has chosen to ignore the agreed negotiating machinery and subjected staff to a barrage of direct propaganda justifying their attempts to bulldoze through a package of cash-led measure that would decimate jobs, working conditions and threaten the safety regime that currently ensures a guard on every train.”

However, Vtec said there would be no forced job cuts and any action would not affect passengers.

A spokesman said: “We have big plans for the east coast franchise, with £140 million of investment aimed squarely at making the customer experience the best it can be.

“The on-board changes are part of those plans, which put the customer at the heart of all our operations.

“We are puzzled by the RMT’s decision to ballot, as we have ruled out compulsory redundancies.

“A strike would also cost our people pay for no reason, and we have well prepared contingency plans which mean we expect to run a full timetable with customers travelling as normal.

“We would welcome the RMT re-opening discussions at any point.”

Vtec would also consult staff over any travel centre changes.