ScotRail urged to end voluntary severance scheme by TSSA union

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Union leaders have called on ScotRail bosses to halt their voluntary severance scheme, raising concerns the payments could have to be paid for with taxpayers’ cash.

The TSSA union voiced its fears after Abellio ScotRail posted a loss of £3.5 million after tax in its first full year of running the service.

With transport minister Humza Yousaf working to enable a public-sector operator to bid for the franchise, TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes said senior managers could be “in the process of awarding themselves big golden goodbyes before they pull the plug, whilst the SNP turns a blind eye”.

The union is also concerned the voluntary severance programme could impact on railway safety, depending on the number of staff who take up the offer.

Abellio, an arm of the state-owned Dutch railway operator Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS), took over the running of the ScotRail franchise in April 2015 and made profits of £9.5 million in the first nine months.

However, in September it emerged it was loaned £10 million from Abellio Transport Holding – another branch of NS – in 2016.

Mr Cortes said: ” ScotRail has just posted a big loss, so it beggars belief it can afford these payouts.

“It is likely the pay-offs will cost more than the profits Abellio have so far made out of the ScotRail franchise.

“So, we have to ask just what is the game Abellio are playing with its workers, its taxpayers and the Scottish Government itself?

“Are senior managers in the process of awarding themselves big golden goodbyes before they pull the plug, whilst the SNP turns a blind eye?”

He added: ” By this Friday the whole of Abellio’s management, clerical and administrative team have been asked to say whether they’d like to take voluntary severance at 70% of their total pay cheque.

“If you’re on £18k a year, then even a £14,600 tax-free lump sum is an effective bribe to give up your job.

“If you’re one of the too many ScotRail fatcats earning £100k plus, then you are eligible for a minimum pay-off of £70k tax free.

” We are concerned the Abellio pay-outs will be paid by the Scottish taxpayer rather than Abellio.

“We want reassurances that everything will be done done to ensure safety-critical and rail journey delivery planning jobs aren’t axed.”

Scottish Labour transport spokesman Neil Bibby backed calls for the severance programme to be put on hold.

He said: ” ScotRail’s severance programme should be put on hold while meaningful talks with the TSSA and the rail unions take place, and assurances should be given that jobs vital to the running of the railway and safety-critical posts will be protected.

” If ScotRail ignore the views of their workers and press ahead with this programme regardless, then SNP transport minister Humza Yousaf should intervene.”

Green MSP John Finnie has already raised concerns about the voluntary severance scheme with the First Minister at Holyrood.

Mr Finnie said it was the third such initiative ScotRail had organised in the last two years, adding he was “very concerned about what this will do for staff morale”.

An Abellio spokesman stressed the company’s commitment to Scotland, saying: “We are investing £475 million in Scotland’s railways, the biggest investment since the Victorian era, delivering more seats and faster journey times and better stations for passengers.

“These improvements are part of our 10-year plan to transform Scotland’s railway and we fully intend seeing this work through to completion when the franchise expires in 2025.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: ” While this is an operational matter for ScotRail, the franchise agreement secured by this Scottish Government ensures there will be no compulsory redundancies, in addition to all staff being paid the living wage.

“ScotRail has already undertaken briefing with trade union representatives and no frontline posts are affected.

” As has already been well documented, Scottish ministers secured the right for a public-sector bid for future ScotRail franchises and we are taking the necessary steps to make that possible.”

A ScotRail spokesman accused the TSSA of being “very misleading”.

He stated: “Our policy of no compulsory redundancies remains firmly in place – anybody who currently has a job in the business will continue to do so if they want one.

“This is a voluntary process and it is entirely misleading to suggest otherwise.

“With new trains and services coming soon, the way we operate has to change so that we can build the best railway Scotland’s ever had.”