Conductors’ strikes over extension of driver controlled operation spread to ScotRail in echo of dispute between RMT and Govia Thameslink Railway


Scotrail_AT200Visualisation of ScotRail’s new AT200 trains

ScotRail is facing a summer of industrial action after the RMT union called conductors’ strikes on seven days from June 21 to July 17 over the company’s plans to extend driver controlled operation to new electric services in the Central Belt. The strike days called included the day of the EU referendum and four Sundays including the final day of the Open golf championship.

The union said further strikes would be held every Sunday after July 17, but that it was unable to announce these dates officially at present for legal reasons. In addition the union called an overtime ban until further notice. Although strikes on Sundays will affect fewer passengers, they will disrupt ScotRail’s services to high profile events and its plans to develop the tourist market on scenic lines, and mean staff lose less pay during the industrial action.

During the first strike on June 21, ScotRail drafted in specially trained managers and volunteers from other Abellio Group companies to help minimise the impact. The company estimated that it operated services which would normally carry 72% of passengers – 13% more than if it had only been able to run existing DCO trains that operate without conductors. It anticipates being able to draft in further volunteers in future strikes.

Nonetheless, ScotRail was unable to run a full service on any routes outside the Central Belt, and across the network services on 20 routes were cancelled. Many other routes ran with reduced frequencies and only between 7am and 7pm. ScotRail said tens of thousands of customers were affected.

The programme of strikes was called after 75% of ScotRail conductors voted in favour on a 75% turnout. It came despite assurances from the company that extension of DCO will not result in any conductors losing their jobs or changes to terms and conditions when responsibility for operating train doors transfers to drivers following the completion of electrification programmes and the introduction of new AT200 trains from next year. ScotRail has also guaranteed that the new trains will retain a second member of staff on board, although the conductor role will become more focused on customer service and no longer be classed as ‘safety critical’.

Echoing comments from Govia Thameslink Railway during its ongoing dispute with the RMT over extension of DCO (PT132-36), ScotRail managing director Phil Verster described the strikes as “totally needless” given the assurances provided, and accused the union of misrepresenting ScotRail’s position in claiming the company wants to remove conductors from trains to cut costs.

“The RMT are being, at best, disingenuous when they tell people that we are trying to have driver only trains. We are not,” Verster said. He added that the union was hiding behind bogus safety arguments and a policy that “nothing must ever change”.

Meanwhile, at GTR, the RMT held a third conductors’ strike on the company’s Southern routes, which coincided with the first ScotRail strike. It caused significant service reductions and cancellations on south coast routes from Kent to Hampshire and reduced main line services into London. Southern added that high levels of staff sickness since the first strike in April are continuing to affect services day in, day out.


This article appears inside the latest issue of Passenger Transport.

DON’T MISS OUT – GET YOUR COPY! – click here to subscribe!