Passengers face uncertain festive train travel after ScotRail’s main union announced strikes on the Saturday before Christmas and Christmas Eve over the sacking of a ticket examiner.
• Two days of action so far planned over festive period
• Passengers face uncertainty as ScotRail won’t name affected timetables until next week
• Union warns strikes will cause “massive disruption”
The Rail Maritime and Transport union (RMT) claimed the walkouts would have a “major impact on services” but ScotRail pledged to run the “majority” of trains and will draft in staff from sister train operators to cover for strikers.
The firm is also training its own staff to act as conductors - without whom many trains cannot run - and it operated more than nine in ten services during similar strikes in 2010.
The walkout could also affect Caledonian Sleeper trains between London and Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Inverness and Fort William, with ScotRail no longer taking bookings for Thursday 20, Friday 21 and Sunday 23 December.
It pledged to ensure all sleeper ticket holders would get home for Christmas, which could include by coach instead.
However, with ScotRail not planning to announce until next week how its timetables will be affected if any strike goes ahead, passengers have been left unable to plan shopping, social and other festive rail travel.
Some expressed anger at the strikes. Bank worker Susan McLaren, 38, from Crookston in Glasgow, said: “They’re only harming their cause.
“I can understand why they would be upset about the dismissal, but striking isn’t really a good way of getting backing and getting the public on your side.
“Striking at Christmas time isn’t the best way of getting support from the public, it actually defeats the purpose.”
The strikes call also prompted a bitter clash between the two sides, with ScotRail accusing the union of holding back the announcement for two weeks to ensure it did not affect Christmas pay packets.
But the union said it was simply complying with laws requiring a week’s notice of any action, even though it had announced the strike ballot result on 29 November.
The RMT said members would walk out for 24 hours between just before midnight on Friday, 21 December and at the same time on Sunday, 23 December.
Sleeper staff will strike for 24 hours from 5:30pm on the same days.
Union members voted by two to one - 548 to 264 - to back strikes but ScotRail claimed only one third of the 2,000 eligible staff took part.
The strike is over the dismissal of Scott Lewis who was involved in an argument with a passenger over a promotional ticket to Prestwick airport in Ayrshire.
ScotRail said Mr Lewis had reduced the passenger to tears, and anyone who thought that was acceptable was “in the wrong job”.
It described the strike dates as a “clear attack on the travelling public across Scotland at Christmas as well as people heading home from England, let alone last minute shoppers and party goers – rather than the company.”
The RMT, which has demanded Mr Lewis’ reinstatement, said he had been adhering to ScotRail’s procedures “in assisting the passenger and operating the policy in event of non-payment of a correct fare”.
It said: “Management claim that he put the passenger in a state of alarm, but in reality Mr Lewis was just ensuring he had the correct ticket which is what he is employed to do.”
RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: “Scott Lewis has been victimised and sacked for trying to help a passenger within the written procedures set out in ScotRail’s own policies in what is an absolute travesty of justice.”
Scottish Conservative transport spokesman Alex Johnstone MSP said: “This is an extremely irresponsible time of the year to launch strike action.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “While industrial relations are a matter for the employer, staff and the trade union, it is disappointing the dispute has continued to this point.
“We would obviously encourage both sides to continue to work towards an outcome which can avoid or minimise disruption for passengers.”