As the RMT union prepares for another strike on the Caledonian Sleeper service, the general secretary has accused the government in Edinburgh of being “distracted” by the Margaret Ferrier affair.
Overnight trains linking Fort William, Inverness, Aberdeen, Glasgow and Edinburgh with London have been cancelled on Sunday and Monday nights, 4 and 5 October, with passengers warned that services on 11 and 12 October may also be axed.
The dispute is over fatigue management and the provision of additional rest berths for on-board staff.
The RMT boss, Mick Cash said: “Serco appear to have deliberately provoked this dispute and have never had any intention of entering serious talks.
“Instead of working with the union on a solution to the very real issues of safety and fatigue they have declared war on their staff. That is a scandal.
“It is also wholly unacceptable that the political leadership in Scotland, distracted by the scandal of one of their own travelling on trains while Covid-positive, have not lifted a finger to help us settle this dispute.”
Ms Ferrier, MP for Rutherglen and Hamilton West, has been suspended by the SNP after she admitted to travelling from London to Scotland by train despite testing positive for coronavirus.
Mr Cash said of the Scottish government: “They should get off their backsides and haul Serco into line.”
Ryan Flaherty, Serco’s managing director for Caledonian Sleeper, said: “We are deeply disappointed and frustrated that this action is going ahead at a time when everyone’s focus should be on maintaining vital Scottish transport links.
“This action is completely unjustified. Less than a third of our workforce voted in favour of industrial action.
“When some of our employees raised concerns about fatigue, we brought in an independent fatigue specialist to conduct a fatigue risk assessment on our services.”
He said that the report concluded the train operator is meeting all regulations.
Serco operates the overnight train links on behalf of Transport Scotland. In normal times it is subsidised to the tune of £1m per week, but under the “Emergency Measures Agreement” support is believed to be significantly higher.
Serco said that on-board staff had received full pay during the pandemic, despite working reduced hours.
Since Serco took over the Caledonian Sleeper, the operation has encountered a series of problems.
New rolling stock costing £150m was due to enter service in spring 2018. The launch was first deferred to October 2018, then delayed by a further six months.
In late April 2019, the inaugural overnight rail journey from Edinburgh and Glasgow to London Euston arrived in the English capital over three hours late because of Network Rail problems.
Two months later, “wheel flats” were responsible for a series of train cancellations.
In September 2019, Caledonian Sleeper services were cancelled because of industrial action.