Strikes at ScotRail loom closer after peace talks fail

The threat of disruption to passengers loomed closer today after peace talks to avert a strike by 550 ScotRail conductors broke up without agreement.

It came a day after the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) announced six days of walkouts, starting next Tuesday.

Talks involving the two sides at the conciliation service Acas in Glasgow ended after around two hours.

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The dispute is over plans to downgrade conductors’ roles on new trains being introduced on lines across the Central Belt from next year.

The RMT opposes the control of train doors and safety duties being transferred from conductors to drivers.

That system has operated on electric trains in and around Glasgow for 30 years.

Lower-paid ticket examiners would also replace conductors’ ticket checking role on some services.

Other strikes have been called for Thursday 23 June, Saturday-Sunday 25-26 June and Sundays 3, 10 and 17 July.

Conductors voted by three to one for action.

Unofficial action among disgruntled conductors over the last few Sundays has already forced the cancellation of up to one in ten services.

ScotRail operated nine in ten trains during a similar dispute six years ago.

However, it is claimed operator Abellio has fewer staff that it can draft in from other train operators to cover for striking conductors than its predecessors FirstGroup.

ScotRail accused the union of “intransigence”.

A spokeswoman said: “We are extremely disappointed the talks today have failed to find a solution to this issue.

“Since the start of this dispute we have made it clear we were willing to guarantee jobs, guarantee pay and guarantee terms and conditions for our conductors for the duration of the ScotRail franchise.

“This provides the certainty and security to our conductors that they have been telling us they want.

“We simply do not understand why the RMT seem so intent on having a strike that would disrupt our customers and hurt our people financially.

“They are being driven by their national policy and, judging by today, are unwilling to listen to – or have talks about - anything that doesn’t fit in with that RMT policy.”

“Almost 60 percent of people who travel on a train in Scotland do so on a service where the door is safely opened and closed by the driver, with a second member of staff on board carrying out safety and other customer service duties.

“This has been the case of 30 years – and has had the full backing of the unions.

“Even though the RMT walked away from our talks today, we will invite them back in for more discussions ahead of Tuesday.

“At the moment, our pragmatic approach is being met by intransigence. If that changes, we can find a resolution to this needless dispute.”

A union spokesman said: “RMT’s policy is for no extension of driver-only operation [DOO]on any route or service and for the guard [conductor] to be in full operational control of the power operated doors.

“Furthermore, RMT has made it clear the union is totally opposed to any proposals for extending DOO, reducing or abolishing the safety role of the conductor and reducing or abolishing the role of the conductor in operation of the doors.

“Scotrail have been repeatedly informed of RMT’s position and the company have claimed they accepted the importance of these issues.”

General secretary Mick Cash said: “Our members on ScotRail stand determined and united in this fight for jobs and safety on Scotland’s rail services.

“They have not been fooled by the company dirty tricks and their attempt to influence and distort a democratic, secret ballot of the staff has backfired spectacularly with 75 per cent voting for strike action on a 75 per cent turnout – busting through the thresholds of even the most rabid, anti-union sections of the hard right.”