Striking workers picket Fort William rail station over sleeper service

RAILWAY PICKET LINE PICTURE IAIN FERGUSON, ALBA.PHOTOS

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Striking rail workers mounted a picket line outside the railway station in Fort William on both Sunday and Monday nights in the continuing dispute over working conditions to do with the Caledonian Sleeper Service.

Rail union RMT says its members in Fort William and elsewhere have been put under ‘intolerable personal stress’ as a result of what it alleges is Caledonian Sleeper operator Serco’s mismanagement of the service.

The picket lines could be found at rail stations across Scotland and elsewhere in the UK as part of a package of strike action and action short of a strike on the Caledonian Sleeper itself.

Sleeper service staff were told not to book on for any shifts between noon on Sunday and midnight on Tuesday. Additionally, members were instructed not to work any overtime or rest days, not to perform higher grade duties and to work to their original job description from 00.01 hours yesterday (Wednesday) until until further notice.

The union has accused Serco of stringing staff along in talks while effectively slamming the door on any settlement.

RMT representatives have had a number of meetings with the company and further talks at an Avoidance of Disputes meeting with the company this week but claim these failed to produce any serious movement from Serco.

RMT regional organiser Gordon Martin told the Lochaber Times this week he was delighted with the show of strength from members on the Fort William picket lines, given the small number of local staff employed by the sleeper service.

And he warned there would be further disruption, including in Fort William, if Serco failed to address concerns from the RMT and its members in meetings scheduled for tomorrow (Friday).

‘Fort William is a very small depot so the number of staff who turned out, while small, was excellent,’ he said.

‘We have a meeting with the company on Friday and we’re hoping, now that we have the company’s undivided attention, that they will take our concerns more seriously.

‘If they fail to do that then I am afraid there will be further industrial action and our members, including those in Fort William, are committed to standing firm and seeing this through.’

Responding to a Lochaber Times inquiry, Ryan Flaherty, Serco’s managing director of the Caledonian Sleeper, said: ‘We are deeply disappointed and frustrated at this industrial action by the RMT, but most of all we are bemused as they have been unable to explain what will bring this dispute to a resolution.

‘We have met the RMT and company council on many occasions and the changes they have requested have either been completed or are under way, including the recruitment of more staff at Edinburgh, Glasgow and London for a six-month period while the new Mark 5 carriages settle in.

‘We recognise that the problems we had introducing the Lowland Sleeper were challenging for everyone involved and we are very grateful to all our staff for their efforts and the way they rose to meet the challenge, but we are pleased that in the past weeks the situation has been steadily improving.

‘This action is completely unnecessary and we urge the RMT to come back and tell us what they want. We are ready to go to mediation and hold further discussions.’