WHY ARE SO MANY SCOTRAIL STAFF OFF ON SUNDAYS?

KEN HOUSTON

With the sun shining through clear blue skies the May Bank Holiday was a great opportunity to visit friends and family, especially those who lived some distance away – right?

Well not, unfortunately, for anyone who had chosen to travel by train. On Bank Holiday Sunday, 80 ScotRail services – around one-tenth of the total scheduled – had to be cancelled or curtailed because of staff shortages.

This latest example of goodwill by ScotRail staff towards its paying customers revolves around the fact that Sunday is not part of the normal working week so they simply refused to do overtime, leaving management powerless to prevent the resultant chaos.

There have been suggestions that the reluctance to do overtime is connected to a disagreement over driver operation of train doors (and consequent reduction in the role of the conductor).

Be that as it may, it must have come as something of a surprise to many that Sunday was not part of the normal working day in an industry in which demand, encompassing business, commuting and leisure travel, runs across the entire week.

I cannot, for example, imagine Sunday not being a normal working day in privately-owned, seven-day sectors such as airlines, hotels or cinemas.

Or for that matter my own industry, the Press. Modern technology may have reduced the need for staff but a newspaper hitting the streets on a Monday morning once required a full complement of production journalists to work on Sunday, making it a normal working day (although a rota system ensured a share-out of Sundays ‘off’).

But shorn of commercial pressure, different attitudes apply in the public sector, whether it is local authorities or even the NHS; listening in on the current dispute south of the Border, more than once have I heard a junior doctor refer to “our Saturdays” as if the day was somehow sacrosanct.

And, whatever the gloss put on it, the railway system is effectively still part of the public sector. Although the current dispute is between the union and Abellio, the private train operating company holding the ScotRail franchise, it is the Scottish government that pulls the purse strings.

This, therefore, is yet another example of substantial taxpayer-funded investment (in this case electrification of the main Glasgow-Edinburgh line and a new fleet of trains to operate it) not being met by concessions on working practices by a union whose very members are set to benefit over the longer term.

It seems reasonable to infer that making Sunday part of the normal working day would lead to fewer disruptions of the type referred to and greater cost savings for the Scottish taxpayer who is paying the £6bn, ten-year contract between the government and Abellio.

But that, clearly, was not part of the current deal, so it seems likely that the staff – as is their contractual right – will be in a position to refuse to work overtime on Sundays. Whether this is associated with the present or any future grievance or employees just fancy the day off, the passenger will suffer.

Therefore when the current contract does come up for renewal perhaps whoever is in power at Holyrood will have the nous to insist that the terms include provision for a seven-day rota for a seven-day industry.

 

MORE TRAIN TRAVAIL

Still on trains, it was reported that transport police were searching for eight men after they had abused other passengers on a recent Friday night service out of Edinburgh on the Borders railway.

This will still be a new phenomenon for some Borderers, who were without trains for 46 years before the opening last year of the service between Waverley and Tweedbank, just south of Galashiels.

Urban Scots, on the other hand, have long been aware of the underlying threat of rowdiness whenever they board a train. While most likely on Friday or Saturday nights, even during the daytime there is always the possibility of coming across a group of young men (and women) who do not seem to have any boundaries regarding how they conduct themselves in a public place.

So for Borderers still new to trains my advice, in such a situation, would be to sit in silence in the hope that the Neds get off at the next station because complaining, even in the politest of terms, could lead to an alternative destination – i.e. a hospital – than the one intended.

 

PLENTY MORE SEATS ON TOP

Whatever the outcome of the EU referendum on 23 June it seems that some things will continue to remain stubbornly ‘British’.
‘Buses’ magazine tells its readers that orders for new buses in the UK in 2015 were up 15% on 2014 and also exceeded the previous peak year, 2012.

Significantly, orders for double-deckers were up by 38pc but down by 7pc for single-deckers (which are the norm on the Continent). So stick that in your (exhaust) pipe and smoke it, Johnny Foreigner!

The other good news, for Scottish manufacturing, is that many of the new buses are being bodied by Alexander Dennis at its plant in Falkirk, just along the road from the UK headquarters of the company in Larbert.

Twitter: @PropPRMan

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