Railmen not so chirpy over exotic plumage

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Apparently it gets worse at night when drink has been taken. The male employees at Connex South Central train company seem to bear the brunt. There are comments about their sexuality and claims that they resemble technicolour gendarmes or brightly coloured birds - budgerigars more often than not.

The most popular suggestion, however, is that their uniforms are of a kind usually found in the properties department of the D'Oyly Carte opera company in the section marked "Pirates of Penzance".

The employees of Connex South Central are seriously bored with shouts of "which is Long John Silver?" and "Where's your parrot?".

The vestments of the long-suffering station staff are, shall we say, an acquired taste. The more toffee-nosed passengers commuting into London from Sussex might even venture that they were a touch vulgar. Conservative black trousers and blazers in a relatively quiet blue are enlivened with a lighter blue hat with yellow braid plus a bright yellow waistcoat.

The company seems to be rather precious about the uniform and woe betide any employee who sheds a garment without authorisation. The rail workers' union, RMT, reports that a number of employees have been disciplined for failing to wear a hat. Employees complain that in the greenhouse conditions of some stations such as Brighton, which are covered in glass, removal of the head gear is the only means to avoid expiring in the manner beloved of guardsmen.

Connex contended that no one had been disciplined for failing to wear the company's hat. A spokesman said the Gallic-looking headgear could be removed "but staff have to receive authorisation and conditions have to be equatorial for that to happen. The hat is a distinctive part of the uniform and it means that customers can find our staff quickly."

5 South West Trains, is offering drivers pounds 1,000 bonuses if they cancel their holidays and work over the summer in order to keep hundreds of services running, writes Randeep Ramesh.

The company, which was forced to cut hundreds of trains earlier this year, said that it had inherited a "high occurrence of annual leave over the period" and drivers were returning to work.