The RMT Trade Union issued a press release on 5 December 2016 pledging to fight the Government’s apparent “plans to privatise Network Rail”. The Government insists that its “plans” simply involve an attempt to better coordinate the work required and undertaken by Network Rail (who are responsible for the rail track and infrastructure) and the train operating companies (who are responsible for providing the services).

Whether this amounts to a mere restructure of activities or “privatisation” it is clear that industrial relations in the rail sector are in need of improvement.

The forthcoming Christmas holidays do not appear to be providing any Christmas cheer. The RMT is planning further strike action on Southern Rail, both before and after Christmas as part of its long running dispute over the role of Conductors on trains. Meanwhile Drivers from the ASLEF Union are continuing with their overtime ban and on Thursday, Southern’s parent Company – Govia Thames Link Railway (GTR) failed at the High Court to obtain an injunction stopping ASLEF from holding further strikes. Southern has now warned passengers that the forthcoming strikes will lead to no services on many routes.

At the same time (and with little fanfare) the Government brought into force Section 3 of the Trade Union Act 2016. This means that there is now a legal requirement for any industrial action ballot in important public services (which includes transport) to have at least 40% support (from the members balloted) in order the industrial action to be lawful. This may (or may not) affect further industrial action ballots taken by the RMT and ASLEF and this is the first in a series of provisions that will bring in to force the Trade Union Act 2016. How the Unions respond to these will be interesting to say the least.