TRAM drivers are taking part in a consultative ballot on strike action amid union claims of a “damaging culture of blame” where employees fear for their jobs.
The Unite union, which represents most of the drivers, said there had been a string of disciplinary actions against workers, including suspension and dismissal, which it branded harsh, unreasonable and unjust.
The union raised a collective grievance in August, claiming management were inconsistent in their attitudes towards some incidents, with some workers being disciplined but no action taken against others.
Unite regional officer Lyn Turner said: “The management culture within Edinburgh Trams shows a pattern where the assumption of blame is the first choice of some managers. The management must know that workers cannot be motivated through blame or fear.”
He cited one incident where a driver had received a call from the ticket conductor on his tram saying she was being attacked by two passengers; he stopped the tram and went to find out what was happening; he radioed control and was told to take the tram to the next stop if he could; but in the meantime the two youths hit the emergency button to open the doors and ran off, which meant the tram could not move until the doors were reset. “Our member was given a final written warning because he had failed to follow an instruction,” said Mr Turner.
“From the time the trams started there has been a good relationship, but with the culture that has been established now our members are saying ‘We can’t take any more of this’.” He made clear none of the incidents was related to any of the recent accidents involving trams.
Mr Turner said: “Unite accepts that safety is the primary concern at all times. However the decision by management to escalate what we see as a few incidents that did not compromise safety, to disciplinaries and sacking offences is simply unreasonable and unjust. These matters could have been dealt with quickly and fairly. Instead management have meted out punishment well beyond what was necessary which has led to the decision to ballot our members for industrial action.
“We now have a situation where, because of the lack of rational decision-making by management, the trams may stop running. Unite is disappointed that it has come to this, but management at Edinburgh Trams should start behaving reasonably and rationally when dealing with incidents and issues. We would urge them to sit down and negotiate with us.”
The consultative ballot began yesterday and will run until October 19. A further ballot would be needed before any industrial action could be called.
A spokeswoman for Edinburgh Trams said: “We take the responsibility of the safety of our customers and staff seriously, and we are confident in our internal processes. We are disappointed that Unite are not willing to allow the necessary time for these processes to formally conclude. We are not prepared to comment publicly on confidential staff matters.
“Our communication channels remain open as we aim to identify and resolve concerns.”