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Christmas rail strike threat after last-ditch talks fail

THE threat of a rail strike in Scotland is still hanging over passengers this Christmas after last-ditch talks between unions and management ended without agreement.

The Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union has called for the immediate reinstatement of ticket collector Scott Lewis, who was dismissed over accusations he had been "aggressive and intimidating" towards a passenger during an argument about a ticket offer.

Ian Macintyre, the union's regional organiser for Scotland, said its demands were rejected, though he described a meeting yesterday with ScotRail's chief executive, Steve Montgomery, as "constructive".

He said the union's national executive would consider what action to take, adding: "We're still in discussions and are going to keep talks going to try and avert a strike." Asked if there was any likelihood of Mr Lewis being re-instated, Mr Macintyre said there "wouldn't be any indication of that" and said the issue was still a "line in the sand" for union members.

A ballot for strike action was passed by a two-to-one margin last week but a relatively low turnout meant that only 24% of the 2200 RMT members eligible to vote supported such action.

The union would have to give seven days' notice of a strike, although it is thought unlikely any action would be called until the second half of December.

A ScotRail spokesman said that constructive talks took place with the RMT and added: "We are available for further meaningful talks at any time."

Mr Lewis was dismissed for gross misconduct after an argument with a passenger who had tried to claim a free ticket offer made by Ryanair in March.

ScotRail accused the ticket collector of failing to follow procedures by refusing to sell a ticket and then having an argument which lasted more than 15 minutes and reduced the passenger to tears. The RMT said the claims were a "travesty" and that Mr Lewis was following proper procedures for dealing with a fare dodger and trying to assist the passenger.

ScotRail claimed last week union members were being asked to strike on the basis of misleading information as CCTV footage said to show the incident was shown to Mr Lewis and his union representative on three occasions.

The RMT withdrew claims that management had "refused to produce any CCTV evidence" but insisted the footage did not back up the company's claims.

l The threat of disruption to lifeline ferry services has returned after crews voted for strike action. There are calls for the Scottish Government to intervene in the dispute, which will affect ferries to Orkney and Shetland.

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