Vote no to imposition of Driver Only Operation – urges RMT’s Mick Lynch

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SCOTRAIL employees are set to vote on strike action against the introduction of Driver Only Operation (DOO) trains, the RMT has announced.

The management of the Scottish government-operated railway company has declared that services on the Barrhead and East Kilbride lines may proceed without a second crew member, leaving the decision to the driver’s discretion.
More than a hundred conductors, who stand to be impacted by the implementation of ScotRail’s strategy, will participate in the vote.
Mick Lynch, the RMT’s general secretary, stated on Thursday: ‘ScotRail is attempting to covertly implement DOO by placing train drivers in an untenable position, empowering them to determine the necessity of a second onboard staff member.
‘The presence of a second individual on these ScotRail services is crucial for both safety and passenger comfort, and we are prepared to combat any efforts that jeopardise our members’ employment.’
Lynch called on the Scottish government to intervene and prevent the adoption of DOO on the Barrhead and East Kilbride lines.
He concluded: ‘Our members will undoubtedly be infuriated by the conduct of the ScotRail executives, and we anticipate a strong vote in favour of striking.’

  • Meanwhile, the union has levelled accusations of a ‘cover-up’ against the government for its refusal to disclose the contract details of one of the UK’s worst performing rail services.

The government presented Avanti with a nine-year management contract for the West Coast route, which connects London, Birmingham, Manchester, and Glasgow, last September, in spite of the company’s poor performance history. Avanti is infamous for its frequent last-minute service cancellations, delays, excessive crowding, and general service disruption.
Despite Transport Secretary Mark Harper proclaiming that Avanti was ‘back on track’ upon granting the rail service operator its new extended contract, Avanti’s performance has only worsened since September. Just last Saturday, Avanti had to cancel or partially cancel more than 50 of its services.
The RMT submitted a freedom of information (FOI) request in January to view the agreement between the Department for Transport and Avanti, which delineates the service terms. However, even as service disruptions have increased, the Department for Transport denied this request.
The Department responded to the RMT’s FOI inquiry by stating that the contract would be disclosed ‘in due course’, yet did not specify when.
The Department argued that early release of the contract to certain entities might ‘potentially cause misinterpretation and confusion’, and ‘damage the trust between the department and train operating companies’.
Mick Lynch, RMT’s general secretary, accused the government of ‘deliberately keeping the union in the dark to avoid accountability and engaging in a cover-up’.
He asserted that the government’s refusal to publicise the contract ‘spoke volumes’.
‘Every passenger and taxpayer is funding Avanti to deliver one of the most substandard services in the recent history of British railways.’
In January, a controversy erupted around Avanti West Coast after Novara Media disclosed that company managers had made jokes about receiving ‘free money’ from the government in an internal presentation. A slideshow for the executive team of the company referred to performance-based bonuses, which are additional to the funding for running the service, as ‘too good to be true’.
Following these disclosures, Rail Minister Huw Merriman held discussions with the CEO of FirstGroup, the parent company of Avanti, and senior officials from the Department for Transport also met with representatives from Avanti.
RMT officials argue that the recent increase in service cancellations and delays, the ‘free money’ scandal, and overall disarray in the service justifies the immediate public release of the contract for scrutiny of Avanti’s obligations under the contract.
National rail contracts, which detail the obligations of the train operating companies as set by the Department for Transport, are typically made public in a register. The postponement in making the Avanti contract public raises additional questions regarding the Department’s relationship with the troubled operator.
The franchising financial model was abandoned by the government when the pandemic led to a halt in rail travel and the disappearance of passenger revenue. Currently, the government absorbs cost and revenue risks while paying train operating companies a fixed management fee, which includes the possibility of additional earnings if performance targets are met.
The national rail contracts outline the criteria train operating companies must fulfil to qualify for performance-related payments.
In 2022, the Labour Party accused the government of ‘rewarding failure’ when it was revealed that Avanti had received over £17 million in government subsidies from 2019 to 2021, despite its lacklustre performance.
Although the Department for Transport has yet to release the latest figures on fees paid to rail operators, there is concern that the ministers might approve additional performance-related payments for Avanti, despite its poor service record.
RMT officials are raising concerns that any further performance-related payments to Avanti would prompt serious questions regarding the specifics of its government contract.
Last month in the House of Commons, Louise Haigh, the shadow transport secretary, branded the comments about ‘free money’ made by Avanti as ‘disgraceful’, but pointed out that ‘the issue lies in the contracts that the secretary of state is signing with such failing operators’.
The Department for Transport’s refusal to publish the contract is amid worries that government departments are purposefully delaying and obstructing document releases.
Angela Rayner last year accused Rishi Sunak of fostering a ‘culture of concealment’ after it was revealed that the rate of fully published FOI requests had fallen to an all-time low.
‘We have the right to understand the conditions imposed on the company to ensure a satisfactory service,’ Lynch stated. ‘Avanti’s contract should be terminated immediately, and the entire railway system should be brought under public ownership for the benefit of both passengers and railway workers alike.’
Craig Johnston, RMT’s relief regional organiser, commented: ‘This is a pivotal route in the country. It’s a vital link for the economies of Scotland, the Northwest, North Wales, the Midlands, and London, being one of the busiest and most essential parts of the national rail network.
‘The Tories are hiding the contract’s contents. However, Avanti has inadvertently disclosed some details through their “free money” presentations.
‘The Tories claim to support levelling up. However, since Avanti took over, their performance, attitude towards passengers, and staff has been nothing but a disaster.’
A spokesperson for Avanti West Coast acknowledged: ‘There have been short-notice cancellations across our network, and we apologise to our customers for any inconvenience and frustration caused. We are actively working to reduce these cancellations, which are due to a shortage of train crew caused by historical leave arrangements and higher sickness levels.’