Aslef, the trade union which represents nearly 1000 ScotRail drivers, said it expected to ballot for industrial action amid mounting frustration with the way the company had handled an ongoing row which it says has left staff having to work around 10 additional shifts a year.
Kevin Lindsay, the union’s officer for Scotland, said he expected to inform ScotRail of a ballot next month and that, if members voted in favour, drivers could refuse to work Sunday shifts as early as mid-January, leading to widespread train cancellations.
Speaking to The Herald ahead of a meeting of the union’s executive, Scottish officers and members last night, Mr Lindsay said the action was being considered to try to force ScotRail back round the table.
The union last week announced that drivers were refusing to work additional shifts, an action which saw dozens of train services cancelled on Sunday.
“At the moment drivers are not volunteering to work additional Sundays. But if there was a ballot it would mean drivers not doing any shifts on a Sunday. It would see ScotRail shut down on a Sunday. It’s not the route we want to go down. We want to talk to them,” Mr Lindsay said.
“I anticipate that, following tonight’s meeting, a ballot will be put in place and ScotRail will be given formal notice of that in December. That would mean any industrial action taking place by mid-January or early February.”
However, the company reacted angrily to the claims, insisting an offer of talks to the union 10 days ago had not been responded to, and that phone calls to union officials had also brought no response. A spokesman said the “door was open” for talks.
The dispute centres on a deal struck in 2008 which increased the number of days off for train drivers, who are paid £37,700 a year, effectively ensuring they work a four-day week, plus one in every three Sundays.
Aslef claims this left ScotRail, which is operated by First Group, with around 50 fewer drivers than it needed and that the company had been relying on “institutionalised overtime” to make up the shortfall.
The claims have been rejected by ScotRail, which says it has only 27 current vacancies and is training 77 drivers. A spokesman said: “It is disappointing that Aslef has withdrawn from a rest day working agreement.
“It is also disappointing that the union has not even responded to our letter of a week ago or answered our telephone calls – yet took unofficial action on Sunday.
“We are at a loss as to why we are in this position. As always, our door is open.”
ScotRail was hit by strike action last year when 550 guards, ticket collectors and Caledonian Sleeper train managers staged a series of strikes over plans to extend the number of train services whose doors are operated by drivers.
The row petered out after First Group redeployed hundreds of staff from south of the Border to provide cover, ensuring the effect on train services was minimal.
However, the latest dispute is potentially more serious for passengers as ScotRail would be prevented from employing train drivers on a temporary basis. “Drivers have got to go through training so ScotRail wouldn’t be able to bring anyone in to provide cover. The trains wouldn’t run,” an industry source said.
ScotRail was left putting passengers on buses on Sunday as Glasgow Central trains were cancelled or part-cancelled, including services to and from Helensburgh, East Kilbride, Neilston, Newton, Gourock, Wemyss Bay, Ayr and Largs.
l A petition launched against proposed changes to the way rail services are run in Scotland has gathered almost 4000 signatures, the Scottish Labour Party has claimed.
It launched the campaign after Scottish Government agency Transport Scotland said it was considering wide-ranging changes to the way trains were run, including increasing fares on routes that had undergone maintenance, asking people to stand more often and cutting some sleeper services between London and Scotland.