Train firm accused of Olympics snub
Union leaders have threatened legal action against one of the country's biggest rail operators after accusing it of effectively banning its staff from volunteering to work at the Olympic Games in London in 2012.
The Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA) said South West Trains (SWT) had told its 5,000 employees that requests to volunteer for the summer games will not be considered before January 2012 at the earliest, by which time the 70,000 vacancies will have been taken.
Union officials said all 70,000 volunteer vacancies were expected to be snapped up by this autumn at the latest, leaving staff at the rail firm "high and dry".
TSSA general secretary Gerry Doherty accused SWT, which is owned by transport giant Stagecoach, of preventing its staff enjoying a ringside seat at the London Olympics.
The union said it had obtained a memo to all heads of department at SWT from Steve Bunce, head of employee relations, urging them to "stall" on all leave requests for the next 18 months because the company might want to run extra trains into London Waterloo during the games.
The memo, which was released by the union, said: "At this early stage, the company is not in a position to agree any requests to take time off to be an Olympic volunteer and it is likely to be the early part of 2012 before we would be in a position to do so.
"SWT will need to make sure that it has sufficient staff available to cover all operating, customer service etc commitments during the Olympics.
"SWT does not want to discourage people from volunteering but as a transport provider in London, the company's ability to give employees time off from their job is going to be extremely limited."
The TSSA said even staff who try to book annual leave to volunteer will be blocked because holiday requests for 2012 will only be considered in 2012 when all the volunteer vacancies will be long gone.
Mr Doherty said he was consulting lawyers to see if the ban could be lifted by way of a legal challenge. He added: "Volunteers will not only be part of the biggest sporting event in their lifetime but they will also probably save themselves more than £1,000 in ticket costs by having free access to the events they are involved in."