05 May 2010

S3M-5722 First ScotRail (Industrial Relations)

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 5 May 2010

[The Deputy Presiding Officer opened the meeting at 14:00]
... ... ...
First ScotRail
(Industrial Relations)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Alasdair Morgan): The next item of business is a members' business debate on motion S3M-5722, in the name of Elaine Smith, on First ScotRail industrial relations. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament understands that a provision exists in the First ScotRail franchise agreement that provides the Scottish Government with discretionary powers to reimburse the company for revenues lost due to industrial action; supports the position of the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) that it is wholly wrong for public funds to be used to support private companies such as First ScotRail in disputes with trade unions; also agrees with the STUC that the provision and use of such powers is not conducive to good industrial relations as it weakens the incentive for private companies to reach agreement; further supports the view of the STUC that such powers should not be used in the event of industrial action in the current dispute between First ScotRail and the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT); welcomes the fact that the Scottish Government has been in dialogue with the RMT over the issues involved in the dispute, and believes that the interests of constituents in Coatbridge and Chryston, passengers, rail workers and Scotland would be best served by an early and agreed negotiated settlement to end this dispute.
... ... ...

The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson):

I thank Elaine Smith for the opportunity to debate one aspect of railways. A broad consensus welcomes the substantial investment in and continuing development of railways throughout Scotland, but the debate relates to trade unions and their relationships with employers.

I commend the work of the STUC and the rail unions, one of which is in dispute with First ScotRail. In particular, I highlight a number of discussions on whether it would be possible for there to be a bid for the next franchise in 2014 in which there is a greater public interest component. Elsewhere, a co-operative venture is looking at the east coast franchise and Go! Co-operative Ltd is looking at running services in parts of England. The STUC remains interested in the proposals that we have made on that front. The discussions that we have been having over the past year will, no doubt, continue.

Of course, it is the responsibility of trade unions to represent and to protect the interests of their members. Last year, I was happy to respond to the request from the STUC and others to contact the Office of Rail Regulation and Network Rail about the programme of renewals on the rail network.

I turn to ScotRail industrial relations. I am pleased that ScotRail has guaranteed that there will be no compulsory redundancies or loss of current terms and conditions for any member of operating staff, including conductors, as part of the driver and ticket examiner operation on the Airdrie to Bathgate service.

Charlie Gordon: Will the minister give way?

Stewart Stevenson: Let me continue a wee bit. I will come back to you, Mr Gordon.

I was about to pick up on a couple of points that Mr Gordon made. We are looking at what has happened on parts of the Scottish network where 56 per cent of rail journeys are supervised by ticket examiners.

Charlie Gordon: Published correspondence shows that ScotRail management was not minded to have driver-only operation on the Airdrie to Bathgate line but that Transport Scotland instructed ScotRail to go ahead with those arrangements. Did Transport Scotland clear that with the minister?

Stewart Stevenson: It is important to realise that the proposal for the operation of the line came from First ScotRail. Of course, it is necessary to discuss the arrangements that are made with Transport Scotland, which supervises the franchise. The debate is about safety. I met the unions on 5 January and again in March, when I received the safety dossier. At every stage, we have sought and received advice from the Office of Rail Regulation, the Rail Accident Investigation Branch and the Rail Safety and Standards Board, on which the RMT is represented.

The advice to ministers, Transport Scotland and First ScotRail is clear. Indeed, given that we have published it, it is clear to everyone else. The advice confirms that ScotRail's proposal for a driver and ticket examiner operation on trains is a safe method of operating trains. The Airdrie to Bathgate service is an extension of the Helensburgh-Airdrie-Drumgelloch line; trains will go on to Bathgate and Edinburgh to form the new service. Currently, those trains operate with a driver and ticket examiner and the Airdrie to Bathgate section and beyond would naturally extend that operation. In Scotland, 47 million journeys a year already operate with that method.

I turn to financial issues. The ScotRail franchise contract does contain a clause that allows the franchisee to ask for reimbursement for net losses as a result of industrial action—

Bill Butler: On that point, will the minister assure the Parliament that taxpayers' money will not be used to indemnify First ScotRail under any circumstances whatever?

Stewart Stevenson: The contract that is before me is clear. I can absolutely tell Parliament and everyone else that we have not advised ScotRail on how to manage the strike. We have not made a decision to reimburse any losses that they can demonstrate, nor have we compensated ScotRail for losses from strike action or paid training costs that relate to the strike. In addition, if a claim is made, before we come to any conclusion—we are contractually obliged to do this under the franchise that we inherited—we will consult the STUC and the unions. That is an important safeguard.

Hugh O'Donnell: Will the minister give way?

Stewart Stevenson: I have to make progress. I still have quite a lot to cover in a short space of time.

It is important to note that, uniquely in the Great Britain rail network, the franchise contract for ScotRail specifies that a second member of staff, in addition to the driver, should be on board to perform revenue protection and customer care duties. Mary Mulligan raised the issue of women travelling alone. The important provision that I have described, which is unique in the GB rail network, ensures that there is someone on board to look after the customers who use our trains. All staff who are on board are trained in evacuation procedures.

Different parts of our railway network have different technologies, so it is important that training fits those technologies. We have heard the expert opinions of the ORR, the Rail Accident Investigation Branch and the Rail Safety and Standards Board. It is clear from everything that has been said to me that driver and ticket examiner operation is an appropriate and safe method of operation for the Airdrie to Bathgate service.

Gavin Brown asked whether things have changed on the railways and whether details are available. He also talked about historical accidents. I will provide members with some context. We provided a copy of the dossier with which the RMT provided us to the three bodies that I have mentioned, who responded to its contents. They said that, intrinsically, the dossier does not necessarily give a complete picture. In the letters that they sent to us, they were clear about what is safe and appropriate. In its letter, the RSSB indicates that it carried out a review of data from March 2009 to December 2009, which showed that, where the driver opens the doors, the rate of injuries resulting from boarding and alighting from trains is one third that where train doors are opened from elsewhere.

It is important that we deliver this project on time and on budget, that we deliver the 130 additional jobs that will be created and that we continue to grow the railway network and the services on it. Since the beginning of this franchise, there has been a 25 per cent increase in employment on the railway network; there has been an increase in the number of conductors; and further services, with more conductors, are planned. The appropriate way in which to deal with the dispute is for First ScotRail and the RMT to sit down together. I urge them to do so.


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