ScotRail strike suspended so ‘further talks’ can take place

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The long-running ScotRail dispute has been suspended today following six weeks of disruption to passengers.

Rail union RMT confirmed today that, following a meeting of representatives, all industrial action on Scotrail has been suspended to allow further talks to take place.

The full decision of the union executive is:

“That we note that a Meeting has taken place with our elected Representatives and Lead Officer in Scotland to discuss the recent proposals from Scotrail over DOO/DCO, further we note that it is the majority view our negotiating team that all further Industrial action should be suspended to allow for further talks to take place with the company.

“We therefore instruct the General Secretary to Suspend all pending Strike Action And Action Short Of Strike, further we instruct the General Secretary to arrange an urgent meeting with Abellio Scotrail to discuss platform interface (Platform train despatch procedures) with the ASLE&F in attendance.

“All further developments to be placed back before this NEC.”

RMT General Secretary Mick Cash said: “The union has made sufficient progress to enable us to suspend the current programme of industrial action on Scotrail to allow for further detailed discussions on the issue of platform train despatch procedures. Our colleagues from ASLEF will be involved in those discussions with the company.

“The progress we have been able to make in this dispute is entirely down to the resilience, determination and strength of our Scotrail members who have taken wave after wave of rock-solid action in defence of rail safety. They are a credit to the entire trade union movement.”

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The move follows 12 days of strikes since June, which have forced the cancellation of one in five trains across the country.

Five further days of walkouts have been called by the union, in an intensification of the industrial action.

A two-day strike was planned for Sunday and Monday, one for next Thursday and another two-day stoppage for Saturday and Sunday 13-14 August.

Passengers have been forced to switch to buses on some lines and seen services run less frequently, and only between 7am and 7pm, on other routes.

The latest offer would see conductors, or guards, retained on a new fleet of electric trains which are scheduled to start running on routes across the Central Belt from late next year.

Conductors would also keep their historic safety role, such as being responsible for evacuating the train in an emergency.

ScotRail had planned to replace them with lower-paid ticket examiners on some services.

However, the train operator still wants to switch the control of door opening and closing from conductors to drivers.

This already happens on electric trains in and around Glasgow, under a deal struck 30 years ago to keep threatened lines open.

One well-placed union source described the ScotRail move as “encouraging”, while another said: “I’d be amazed if they don’t accept it.”

A separate industry source said: “The local consultation that has taken place so far has been positive.”

A RMT source said: “We are going to give the proposal full scrutiny, but until the union representatives have decided on it, nothing has changed and the action is still on.”

RMT general secretary Mick Cash, who has discussed the dispute with ScotRail officials, is also believed to be supportive of the offer, but the union has declined to confirm this.

Mr Cash stressed to The Scotsman during a visit to Glasgow on Sunday the “safety critical” role of the conductor, which would appear to be retained under the latest ScotRail plan.

Conductors will have seen their pay packets dwindle after weeks of strikes, while ScotRail has managed to provide buses to keep most passengers on the move.

However, some union officials may seek to hold out for door control remaining among conductors’ responsibilities.

The door-control move is seen as crucial in cutting the time trains stop at stations on the main Edinburgh-Glasgow line to reduce journey times from 50 minutes to 42 minutes when the new Japanese-built Hitachi trains start using it.

ScotRail has said drivers rather than conductors closing doors could save 15 seconds per stop. That could add up to more than a minute over the journey.

The Scottish Government’s Transport Scotland agency said last month the planned reduction in journey time between the two cities after electrification of the main line is complete was based on driver operation of the doors.

It said alternatives would be looked at if conductors retained door control, but it is not clear how the time saving could otherwise be achieved.

Switching door control to drivers on the new electric trains could also be seen as a potential watershed for future similar moves on the operator’s diesel fleets.

A ScotRail spokesman said after a meeting with RMT officials on Monday: “We discussed a proposal that would see a conductor retained on the new electric trains when they enter service next year.

“It would also mean a change to the way in which those trains are dispatched.

“We were encouraged by the talks today but further discussion will need to take place.

“In order to enable this, we have asked the RMT to suspend all upcoming strikes and to encourage a return to normal working.”

Transport minister Humza Yousaf repeated his call for the stoppages to be called off.

He said: “I believe there is a solution to be found through negotiation and as talks are still ongoing I would call for these strikes to be suspended and for all parties to focus on resolving this increasingly frustrating situation.”

A Transport Scotland spokeswoman said: “Any resolution which brings the current strike action to an end and with it the disruption for passengers is to be welcomed.”

Aslef, the main drivers’ union, has shown signs of agreeing to take over door control on the new trains.

However, it still has major concerns over safety as passenger numbers increase.

ScotRail declined to comment until negotiations were complete.

The RMT said the offer had yet to be discussed.

A spokesman said: “The offer will now be subject to detailed scrutiny and consultation before there is any formal response from the union.

“RMT will be making no further comment until our members and representatives have had time to respond.”