SCOTRAIL has hit out at union claims a ticket inspector was dismissed with "no evidence" against him, and said staff were being asked to vote for a strike based on misinformation.
The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) has threatened to cause chaos on Scotland's rail network during the festive season after one of its members, Scott Lewis, was sacked in March over an argument with a passenger on a train to Prestwick.
In a leaflet distributed to ScotRail employees, the union said Mr Lewis was following company procedures for dealing with a "fare dodger" and that management had "refused to produce any CCTV or audio evidence to back up their claim" he had placed the passenger in distress.
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"Management will no doubt spread their usual spin but you know the real issue. The Assaults on Staff Policy doesn't work and you are paying the price.
"All the rail unions are now in agreement this policy is fatally flawed and has to be scrapped. This time it was Scott Lewis – but next time it could be you!" the leaflet stated.
However, in a counter-briefing issued to its staff earlier this week, ScotRail insisted CCTV footage lasting more than 15 minutes was shown to the union which "clearly shows S Lewis was intimidating towards a customer".
The train operator claimed the passenger, who was travelling to Prestwick International Airport station to board a flight, was entitled to free travel as part of a promotion by Ryanair.
In an earlier letter to staff, company bosses said Mr Lewis had used the loudspeaker on his Blackberry phone to call the booking office and was told the passenger would be entitled to free travel if his documentation was presented at a booking office.
"Mr Lewis spent a further 15 minutes in discussion with the customer, when he con-tinued to act in an intimidating manner and used aggressive hand gestures in close proximity to him.
"At no point did Mr Lewis follow the correct ticketing procedures by attempting to sell the customer an appropriate ticket for the journey," the letter stated.
Industry sources claim a CCTV film of the incident was shown to Mr Lewis and his union representative Ian Macintyre on three occasions – during the initial investigation, during one of several disciplinary hearings and at a later appeal, in which 25 minutes of footage was shown.
When contacted by The Herald, a spokesman for the RMT backtracked on its initial claim but said the CCTV footage it had seen did not back up ScotRail's version of events and Mr Lewis had been trying to help the passenger.
"Although we have been shown some excerpts from the CCTV we have not had the full tapes released to us and the sections we have seen confirm that not one of the charges levelled by ScotRail against Scott Lewis is backed up with film evidence," the spokesman said.
The union also revealed the ticket inspector had been the victim of a number of serious assaults, including one four years ago which resulted in passenger David Cameron being jailed for more than four months.
"This is a member of staff who had been treated like a punchbag in the course of his difficult and dangerous job and who has now been sacked for simply complying with company policy and for trying to protect the revenue streams that enable First ScotRail to generate substantial profits," the spokesman added.
The RMT ballot for a strike and action short of a strike is due to close on November 29.
Mr Lewis was not at his home in Glasgow when The Herald attempted to contact him.