Transport minister Jenny Gilruth has insisted ScotRail services will “absolutely not” be reduced until summer 2023.
The nationalised rail operator will cut 700 services from Monday in response to train driver shortages caused by a disagreement with the union Aslef which has seen some drivers decline to work overtime or on rest days.
It is understood the temporary timetable could be in place for weeks and Ms Gilruth was questioned on Friday about whether a quick resolution is possible.
She was asked on BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme if the disruption can be temporary given ScotRail needs some 130 train drivers.
Ms Gilruth said 38 drivers are expected to be trained by the end of this summer, with the figure rising to 55 by the end of the year and to 100 by June 2023.
She was then asked if that means the reduced timetable will therefore be in place until the summer of next year.
The minister said: “Absolutely not. We want trade unions to come back to the table. But it is absolutely true to say that the network is dependent on rest day working at the present time.
“We need to phase out that practice. I know the unions are supportive of that. And I think too it’s time for the unions to come back to the table to work with ScotRail.”
Scottish Labour transport spokesman Neil Bibby told the same programme the reduced services will cause “chaos for passengers and workers and businesses” across the country.
He said the cuts are “avoidable” and the situation “needs resolved”.
He added: “The Scottish Government needs to ensure that ScotRail management are entering into meaningful talks with the unions to ensure that the level of service can be restored for people in Scotland, and also needs to address the long-term understaffing that there has been on our railways that’s driving this situation at the moment.”
Union bosses previously rejected a 2.2% pay rise and balloted drivers over industrial action.
Ms Gilruth, who is expected to meet with ScotRail bosses on Friday, urged Aslef to continue to discuss the dispute with ScotRail bosses.
She said: “I would strongly encourage Aslef to continue that dialogue with ScotRail, the employer, because I’m not in the room as minister so I don’t want there to be allegations of political interference.
“It is absolutely right that ScotRail as the employer negotiate with Aslef in the room so that we can get to that mutually agreeable outcome and we can remove this temporary timetable that has to be brought in.
“This timetable is a temporary timetable and I don’t want it to be in place for a minute longer.”
But Aslef hit out at Ms Gilruth’s comments.
Scottish organiser Kevin Lindsay said: “The public need honesty and action, not political game playing.
“From day one Aslef has been 100% committed to negotiations.
“The reality is we’ve been waiting on more talks since our five-minute meet on May 4. Since then, we have only heard from them through the media.
“We have had no correspondence and no offer in writing at any time. We’ve not had the details of the 2.2% offer, or the proposed bonus scheme, in writing from them.
“It is high time ministers stopped the spin and instructed ScotRail to withdraw their attempt to butcher the timetable, which is more about the purse than the passengers, and to get back round the table for immediate, meaningful talks on pay.
“We remain available anytime, any place, anywhere to save Scotland’s railways from these politically motivated service cuts.”
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