A UNION is warning of trains grinding to a halt if managers strike over being forced to fill in for ScotRail driver shortages.

The Transport Salaried Staffs' Association (TSSA) is angry that ScotRail has compelled 50 Driver Team Managers to drive trains to cover for absences - and say that it is potentially a safety issue because they are not doing their jobs in line managing and ensuring the competency of drivers.

The union has warned Alex Hynes, the managing director of ScotRail that they are now in dispute and intend to notify the company of an intention to ballot Driver Team Manager members over strike action.

If there is a strike, TSSA say drivers would not be able to go out on the line because they need authorisation from DTMs "for safety reasons".

ScotRail said the DTMs will only drive trains to avoid cancellations and expect it only to be in ‘last resort’ scenarios.

It said any impact from industrial action would be "minimal".

A remedial agreement reached with Transport Scotland outlined the recruitment of more frontline staff, with an extra 55 drivers and 30 conductors being hired during 2019.

The union say the DTMs were only supposed to be called in for emergencies but claim that since being brought in at the beginning of July, they are driving on average three shifts a week.

"That means training won’t be getting done which means a longer term problem for the public because it will take longer for new drivers to get started," said a TSSA spokesman. "Recruiting more drivers would be a much better solution."

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A Transport Scotland spokeswoman said: "While industrial relations are a matter for ScotRail and the union concerned, we would urge all parties to continue discussion to resolve this dispute at the earliest opportunity."

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Driver Team Managers’ duties include training drivers, passing them out, monitoring newly qualified drivers, investigating operational incidents such as not stopping at stations or passing signals at danger, and recovering drivers who have been involved in fatalities. They say that over time taking on extra driving duties will reduce the number of drivers being trained, monitored and supported.

In a letter to Mr Hynes, Gary Kelly of the TSSA in Scotland said the issue was an example of "a near complete breakdown of industrial relations" between TSSA and ScotRail.

"Unfortunately TSSA feel there is little option but to proceed in a more robust manner with regard to industrial relations within Scotrail until these issues are resolved."

The change in DTM terms to cover driver absences included a salary increase and a rest day working payment of £375.

It comes after thousands of ScotRail services were cancelled after the winter timetable introduction 'chaos' because of staff shortages.

The scale of disruption caused by staff being trained how to operate new trains saw an average of 46 services a day axed towards the end of 2018.

A total of 2,691 ScotRail services were cancelled due to a lack of staff between April 2018 and 16 January 2019.

Most of the disruption that hit Scots railways since the timetable launch in December 9 was due to ScotRail staff shortages, and the train operator has previously said that is partly because many have been undergoing training.

ScotRail said at the time that was partly caused by the late arrival of the new Hitachi Class 385 and high-speed InterCity trains.

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The train operator said the lag in staff training was made worse as a result of RMT industrial action over a pay dispute that lasted several weeks but was resolved in December.

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Passengers continued to be hit by disruption to services over four months after the timetable was launched.

TSSA General Secretary, Manuel Cortes, said: “ScotRail wouldn’t need to force Driver Train Managers to cover shifts if they had employed enough drivers in the first place. As always Abellio are trying to do things on the cheap and it’s blowing up in their face.

“ScotRail has systematically and deliberately excluded our union from talks. We believe this is a cynical and deliberate attempt to undermine our union and deny our members their right to representation and a voice in their workplace."

A ScotRail spokesman  said: “We’ve been hiring qualified and trainee train drivers to help us make Scotland's Railway better. 

“While this recruitment and training takes place, we have agreed that our driver team managers will drive trains to avoid cancellations.

“The investment we are making to recruit more drivers is helping us significantly to enhance the day-today running of services for our customers.”