2016 – A tumultuous year for Britain’s transport network

Written by Kelly

As January heralds a reluctant return to work for some (but not us!), weary commuters may be hoping that 2017 puts the brakes on rail and air misery caused by potential industrial action.

During 2016 headlines were dominated by news of widespread disruption due to long-running strikes by Southern Rail over the scrapping of conductor services, alongside threatened action by Transport & General Workers Union and Amicus that was set to cripple seven UK airports before a twelfth hour reprieve in December.

Stories around Southern Rail that caught the attention of editors included anecdotes from those affected – estimated at around 500,000 passengers per day  – with some reportedly forced to give up jobs or change employment because of the difficulties they faced getting to work. A picture of a mother having to lead her six-year-old son down the street at 5.30am in his pyjamas so she could get to work on time attracted global coverage.

With no sign of a break in the deadlock, union Aslef has suggested more action by its members is highly likely in January and beyond, so there seems no end to the column inches that will be dedicated to it. However, is the media interest proportionate to the action? Some may argue not, and that its position on the news agenda could be influenced by its impact on Londoners, further demonstrating the North/South divide. Indeed looking back to the longest and most bitter dispute in UK history – that of the Liverpool Dockers in the nineties – while famously supported by Robbie Fowler in a goal celebration he was fined for, it was criticised that the dispute was treated by national media as little more than ‘a flickering curiosity’.

According to the Office of National Statistics, 281,000 days were lost to strikes up until 31 October 2016 – compared to 170,000 in the whole of 2015. Yet importantly, 2015 action was at its lowest in a decade. And in the face of 27.1 million days of lost labour in 1984, the 2016 tally perhaps doesn’t seem quite so significant.

While some are calling for tougher legislation around the right to strike, and Theresa May accusing unions of showing ‘contempt for ordinary people’, an unquestionable tool in the pathway to reconciliation has to be good communication between the organisations, its employees and the unions.

Amid a volatile economic climate that looks set to continue into 2017, organisational change may be inevitable for some businesses who need to adapt to survive and thrive. How to manage change is no easy feat, but a clear and comprehensive comms strategy is crucial. To find out more about The Tonic’s internal and corporate communications services, contact us. (Ideally our Nottingham and Newcastle PR offices – our London colleagues may be stranded on a train platform or working from home…)

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