Network Rail workers last Friday announced their plans to strike from 5pm on bank holiday Monday in a row over pay. Should it go ahead, it will be the first UK-wide rail strike for 20 years. It follows a vote for action from RMT union members, but has been condemned by Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin.
There are strong suggestions that the new Conservative government will look to tighten the laws on strikes, with specific reference to the numbers responding to ballots. This would be especially true for essential public services.
But what will the effect be on Network Rail’s reputation among the public? In January, I covered the impact that Christmas delays and cancellations had on its ailing brand perception. And now, another major story has hit the headlines.
Since news of the industrial action emerged, we have again seen various YouGov BrandIndex metric scores decrease. YouGov’s Buzz Metric has decreased from around the minus four per cent mark in mid-April, to a low of minus seven per cent following the announcement, indicating respondents had heard the negative news surrounding the organisation. Its reputation metric has also decreased to a low point of minus two, following the announcement. This underlines the fact that companies can be tainted by taking such a radical approach to workers’ pay structures.
In January, we asked our panel whether workers in a series of professions should have the right to strike. Respondents thought police officers, armed forces members and doctors should not. In the case of railway and underground workers, 65 per cent said they should be able to strike, against 27 per cent that said they should not.
But with potentially nationwide disruption on the horizon, will the public be so forgiving? There is still time for all parties to compromise and call off the action. The new government may see this as their first major test of the new parliament, and with the history of disputes with unions characterising some past leaders’ eras, there will be pressure from within its own ranks to ensure there is no repeat of those bad days.