Caledonian Sleeper workers to strike on last weekend of September

Simon Calder
Station stop: some of the new £150m carriages on a test run in Scotland: Serco

Sunday 29 September looks like being a troubled day for many travellers by air and now rail.

Ryanair’s UK-employed pilots will be on the final day of seven days of industrial action, while some British Airways flights will be grounded by the impact of a strike by its pilots two days earlier.

Now the RMT union has called out members working on the troubled Caledonian Sleeper service on 29 and 30 September.

The sleeper service connects London Euston with Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Inverness and Fort William.

Since Serco took over the Caledonian Sleeper, the operation has encountered a series of problems.

New rolling stock costing £150m was due to enter service in spring 2018. The launch was first deferred to October 2018, then delayed by a further six months.

In late April 2019, the inaugural overnight rail journey from Edinburgh and Glasgow to London using the new trains arrived in the English capital over three hours late because of Network Rail problems.

In June 2019, “wheel flats” were responsible for a series of train cancellations.

There have also been repeated complaints about the lack of hot food on some services.

While the Edinburgh and Glasgow trains, known as the Lowland sleeper, now have the new Spanish-built trains, on the “Highlander” services to and from elsewhere in Scotland 40-year-old carriages are still being used.

Serco says it hopes to have the new rolling stock running across its network by the end of September – though this may be affected by the strike.

The union says the train operator has “reneged on pledges to address a raft of serious concerns raised by staff". It claims that these issues “have ruined working lives and placed the workforce under intolerable pressure”.

It has also instructed members not to work overtime or on rest days, and not to act up to cover for higher-grade colleagues, from Wednesday 2 October.

The RMT says: “Middle management have been openly hostile to finalising a settlement.”

The union’s general secretary, Mick Cash, said: ”RMT members have been put under intolerable personal stress as a result of the company's mismanagement of the sleeper service.

“They know it, they have promised to do something about it but they have failed to deliver. The move to strike action is entirely Serco's fault and the public will understand that. Everyone knows that when it comes to failure they are global specialists.”

But Ryan Flaherty, Serco’s managing director of the Caledonian Sleeper, hit back, saying: “We are deeply disappointed and frustrated at this industrial action by the RMT, but most of all we are bemused as they have been unable to explain what will bring this dispute to a resolution.

“We recognise that the problems we had introducing the Lowland Sleeper were challenging for everyone involved and we are very grateful to all our staff for their efforts and the way they rose to meet the challenge, but we are pleased that in the past weeks the situation has been steadily improving.

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“This action is completely unnecessary and we urge the RMT to come back and tell us what they want. We are ready to go to mediation and hold further discussions.”

Online searches by The Independent suggest that all trains on 29 and 30 September have been taken off sale.

The RMT has also called an overtime ban on CrossCountry trains from Friday 27 September to Tuesday 1 October, inclusive, over what it calls “breaches to the collective bargaining agreements”.

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