Representativeness of the European social partner organisations: Railways sector – United Kingdom

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  • Published on: 07 December 2008



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The aim of this representativeness study is to identify the respective national and supranational actors (i.e. trade unions and employer organisations) in the field of industrial relations in the railways sector in the United Kingdom. In order to determine their relative importance in the sector’s industrial relations, this study will, in particular, focus on their representational quality as well as on their role in collective bargaining. The study is divided into two parts: the first part deals with railway transport operation, based on research carried out in 2006; the second part focuses on rail infrastructure, based on research completed in 2007.

Part 1 – Railway transport operations

1. Sectoral properties

Table 1: Railway transport operation, 1996 and 2005 (NACE 60.1)
Sectoral properties 1993** 2004***
Number of companies n.a. 697****
Aggregate employment* 130,008 54,141
Male employment* 116,790 47,657
Female employment* 13,218 6,484
Aggregate employees 130,008 53,524
Male employees 116,790 47,657
Female employees 13,218 5,867
Aggregate sectoral employment as % of total employment in economy 0.52 0.19
Aggregate sectoral employees as % of the total number of employees in economy 0.62 0.22

Notes: * Employees plus self-employed persons and temporary agency workers; ** From Autumn 1993 Quarterly Labour Force Survey (QLFS), Industry code 7100, survey weighted to population estimates; *** From Autumn 2004 QLFS, NACE code 60.1, survey weighted to population estimates; **** Number of companies registered at Companies House in 2004 in NACE code 60.1; n.a. = data not available; NACE = Nomenclature générale des activités économiques dans les Communautés européennes (General industrial classification of economic activities within the European Communities).

The two codes used to estimate employment (Industry code 7100 and NACE 60.1) are not congruent. The former includes certain categories of employment, such as depot and maintenance workers, that the latter code does not. NACE 60.1 was first used in the Winter 1993/1994 QLFS. Using this survey to estimate employment gives an aggregate employment in the sector of 75,320 workers. NACE 60.1 can be used to estimate employment in the train operating companies (TOCs) and freight operating companies (FOCs). This does not, however, cover employment in the infrastructure sector or in Network Rail (a private company given a mandate by the UK government to improve the safety, reliability and efficiency of the railway).

2. The sector’s unions and employer associations

2a Data on the unions

Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen (ASLEF)
2a.1 Type of membership (voluntary or compulsory) Voluntary
2a.2 Formal demarcation of membership domain ASLEF is the UK’s trade union for train drivers. Its members are employed in train operating companies, freight companies, the London Underground and some light rapid transport (administrative data, A).
2a.3 Number of members ASLEF’s return to the certification office for year ending 31 December 2004 documents 18,274 members – 17,695 men and 579 female. In January 2004, the website of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) gave a total membership figure of 15,001 members, but did not specify the ratio of male to female members.
2a.4 Number of union members in the sector -
2a.5 Female union members as a % of total union membership 3.2% (A). This figure is derived from the information given to the certification office at the end of 2004 – see 2a.3.
2a.6 Density with regard to the union domain 96%–98%. Earlier reports suggest that ASLEF membership among train drivers has remained at almost 100% – see UK contribution (53.5Kb MS Word doc) to the EIRO comparative study on industrial relations in the rail transport sector and the EMCC report on Employment, industrial relations and working conditions in the European rail transport sector (473Kb PDF).
2a.7 Density of the union with regard to the sector 14.1%
2a.8 Does the union conclude collective agreements? Yes.
2a.9 Interest affiliation At national level, ASLEF is affiliated to TUC. At European level, it is affiliated to the European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF) and the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC). At international level, it is affiliated to the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF)
National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT)
2a.1 Type of membership (voluntary or compulsory) Voluntary
2a.2 Formal demarcation of membership domain RMT is the UK’s fastest growing trade union, representing members in almost every sector of the transport industry, from mainline and underground rail to shipping, buses and road freight (administrative data, A). In practice, although RMT seeks to recruit in all areas of the rail industry, it is primarily recognised for membership among blue-collar workers throughout the network – such as non-drivers on trains, platform staff and signal maintenance workers.
2a.3 Number of members 67,476 members, 60,154 men and 7,322 women (Source: TUC website).
2a.4 Number of union members in the sector An estimated 44,000 members (See IRS Employment Review, Vol. 809, 2004, pp. 21–23) are employed in the railway sector.
2a.5 Female union members as a % of total union membership 10.9% (personal estimates from interviews with the association’s representatives, E).
2a.6 Density with regard to the union domain This is difficult to estimate. Among certain grades of workers, such as train staff and platform staff, density is high and likely to amount to 100%. However, among other grades of staff, density is likely to be much lower.
2a.7 Density of the union with regard to the sector 33.8%.
2a.8 Does the union conclude collective agreements? Yes.
2a.9 Interest affiliation At national level, RMT is affiliated to TUC. At European level, it is affiliated to ETF.
Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA)
2a.1 Type of membership (voluntary or compulsory) Voluntary
2a.2 Formal demarcation of membership domain Administrative, clerical, supervisory, managerial, professional and technical employees in railways, the London Underground, buses, road haulage, port authorities and waterways in the UK and Ireland. It also represents employees in the travel trade, hotel and catering industries (administrative data, A) – i.e. TSSA is a union representing white-collar workers. For example, TSSA’s rules specifically exclude train drivers from becoming members.
2a.3 Number of members 32,426 members in 2004 (Source: TSSA annual report 2004 (1.12Mb PDF)).
2a.4 Number of union members in the sector 17,931 members employed in the railway sector in 2004 (A).
2a.5 Female union members as a % of total union membership About 30% (E). This assumes that the gender profile for railway sector members follows the overall gender profile for union membership.
2a.6 Density with regard to the union domain This is difficult to estimate, but density in the companies where TSSA operates is in excess of 50%.
2a.7 Density of the union with regard to the sector 13.8%.
2a.8 Does the union conclude collective agreements? Yes.
2a.9 Interest affiliation At national level, TSSA is affiliated to TUC. At European level, it is affiliated to ETF.

2b Data on the employer associations

Two UK bodies are affiliated to the sector-related Community of European Railway and Infrastructure Companies (CER): the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC), dealing with passenger transport, and the English, Welsh and Scottish Railway (EWS), which deals with freight transport. Neither of these bodies has an industrial relations remit. Therefore, the following section refers only to ATOC as EWS is a single employer.

Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC)
2b.1 Type of membership (voluntary or compulsory) Voluntary
2b.2 Formal demarcation of membership domain ATOC is an incorporated association owned by its members. These members are operators in the passenger rail industry, i.e. they are the TOCs.
2b.3 Number of member companies 22
2b.4 Number of member companies in the sector n.a.
2b.5 Number of employees working in member companies No data available. A report by the Sector Skills Council for Passenger Transport – GoSkills –estimates that total employment in TOCs and FOCs is about 47,000 workers.
2b.6 Number of employees working in member companies in the sector n.a.
2b.7 Density of the association in terms of companies with regard to their domain 100%.
2b.8 Density of the association in terms of companies with regard to the sector About 3%.
2b.9 Density in terms of employees represented with regard to their domain 100%.
2b.10 Density in terms of employees represented with regard to the sector See 2b.5.
2b.11 Does the employer association conclude collective agreements? No.
2b.12 Interest affiliations At European level, ATOC is affiliated to CER.

3. Inter-associational relationships

3.1 Unions whose domains overlap

RMT’s domain overlaps, in minor ways, with both TSSA and ASLEF. However, the domains of TSSA and ASLEF do not overlap, with the former being a white-collar trade union and the latter union almost exclusively representing train drivers.

3.2 Do rivalries and competition exist among the unions, concerning the right to conclude collective agreements and to be consulted in public policy formulation and implementation?

Rivalries and competition do potentially exist among the unions in terms of concluding collective agreements. However, in practice, demarcation disputes seldom occur. All of the above unions are affiliated to TUC and are thus regulated by the TUC Disputes principles and procedures (653Kb PDF). This is essentially a TUC ‘code of practice’ which, although it is not intended to be legally enforceable, nevertheless does inform unions of the accepted procedures regarding organising and recognition. Despite the fact that some competition may occur, the relationships between the unions are primarily based on cooperation. For example, some of the collective bargaining agreements are joint agreements negotiated with TSSA, RMT and ASLEF.

3.3 If yes, are certain unions excluded from these rights?

Certain unions are only excluded from these rights in the sense that they do not cover certain grades of employment as defined by their domain. For example, TSSA has sole negotiating rights for managers at most major employers. In these situations, the other railway sector unions are excluded.

4. The system of collective bargaining

Collective agreements are defined according to national labour law regardless of whether they are negotiated under a peace obligation.

4.1 Sector’s rate of collective bargaining coverage

As it is difficult to provide a precise estimate for the sector’s rate of collective bargaining coverage, it can be estimated at about 100%.

4.2 Relative importance of multi-employer agreements and of single-employer agreements as a percentage of the total number of employees covered

No multi-employer collective bargaining takes place in the sector. All agreements have been reached at the individual employer level. This has been the case since 1996 with the privatisation of the rail industry.

5. Formulation and implementation of sector-specific public policies*

5.1 Are the sector’s employer associations and unions usually consulted by the authorities in sector-specific matters? If yes, which associations?

The individual trade unions, as well as TUC, routinely make submissions to bodies such as the UK Department for Transport, the Greater London Authority, The Scottish Executive and the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR).

ATOC is able to make submissions to various governmental bodies on rail transport issues. However, evidence from the trade unions suggests that ATOC does not have a high profile in this area.

5.2 Do tripartite bodies dealing with sector-specific issues exist?

The Sector Skills Council for Passenger Transport – Go Skills – is an employer-led body, which covers all passenger transport, and consults, although mainly with employers, on the issue of skills.

As regards health and safety, as of 1 April 2006, this is now the responsibility of ORR.

6. Statutory regulations of representativeness

6.1 In the case of the unions, do statutory regulations exist which establish criteria of representativeness which a union must meet, so as to be entitled to conclude collective agreements?

Statutory trade union recognition legislation passed in 1999 governs union recognition, although this is not specific to the railway sector. The legislation may only be used where union density is at least 10% in the proposed bargaining unit, and where the employer has over 20 employees (UK0007183F). It is more common, however, for unions to first seek voluntary recognition before invoking statutory procedures. Indeed, some limited evidence exists to suggest that the presence of statutory legislation has encouraged some employers to enter into voluntary agreements with trade unions (UK9903189F). This certainly appears to have been the case with regard to TSSA’s attempts to secure recognition for management staff. The preferred strategy of the union has been to seek voluntary recognition. In the vast majority of cases this has been achieved without the need to resort to pursuing statutory recognition through the Central Arbitration Committee (CAC).

6.2 In the case of the unions, do statutory regulations exist which establish criteria of representativeness which a union must meet, so as to be entitled to be consulted in matters of public policy and to participate in tripartite bodies?

No.

6.3 Are elections for a certain representational body (e.g. works councils) established as criteria for union representativeness?

Not applicable.

6.4 Same question for employer associations as 6.1.

Not applicable.

6.5 Same question for employer associations as 6.2.

No.

7. Commentary

No industry wide collective bargaining has taken place since the privatisation of the rail industry. The clear preference of the rail sector trade unions is to return to a national collective bargaining system. Despite pressure from the trade union movement in this regard (UK0309103F), collective bargaining continues at the individual company level.

In general, recognition arrangements in the rail sector remained stable throughout the changes in ownership brought about by privatisation, not least because most arrangements were preserved under the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations (TUPE). In such a fractious industry, it was always unlikely that the new TOCs and FOCs would seek to derecognise unions, particularly in the areas of employment with the most disruptive powers. The main exception to this, as noted above, was the case of rail managers, who were given individual contracts. However, as noted, TSSA has mounted a series of successful campaigns for recognition of this group within Network Rail and also among certain train operating companies (TOCs).

RMT is concerned with securing recognition at the companies and agencies that supply casual workers at the fringes of the industry. The previously mentioned IRS report on the railway sector notes that RMT has been successful in securing recognition at two of the larger such agencies – Renown Railway Services and McGinleys Railway Services. Despite the RMT’s activity in this area, figures derived from the autumn 2004 LFS indicate low levels of agency employment in the railway industry. Of the total employment rate, for which figures are available, only 2.2% of those employed in the sector are in non-permanent jobs. Of those workers in non-permanent jobs, 50.3% are classed as temporary agency workers.

Part 2 – Railway infrastructure

1. Sectoral properties

Table 3: Railway infrastructure, 1994 and 2005 (NACE 60.1)
Sectoral properties 1994 2005**
Number of companies *** ***
Aggregate employment* 30,478 49,001
Male employment* 24,586 41,189
Female employment* 5,891 7,812
Aggregate employees 28,972 47,513
Male employees 23,080 39,701
Female employees 5,892 7,812
Aggregate sectoral employment as % of total employment in economy 0.12 0.17
Aggregate sectoral employees as % of total number of employees in economy 0.13 0.19

Notes: Data from the Labour Force Survey (LFS), autumn 1994 and 2005. Note it is not possible to isolate rail infrastructure from more general ‘other supporting land transport activities’.

* Employees plus self-employed persons and agency workers; ** Or most recent data; *** In 1994, the railways system was state owned. At that time, the main company in the sector was British Rail, but contractors were also used for maintenance work. It is impossible to estimate how many companies were involved. Similarly, in 2005, the main operator was Network Rail, which is a not-for-profit company established to replace the private sector operator Railtrack. The company has taken most maintenance work in-house since 2004. However, a lot of contracting still remains in the industry, consisting of large engineering companies like Jarvis, Balfour Beatty and Carillion, as well as smaller and specialist companies. The industry website ‘transportal’ lists about four dozen companies.

2. The sector’s unions and employer associations

This section includes the following unions and employer associations:

  • trade unions that are party to sector-related collective bargaining; (In line with the conceptual remarks outlined in the accompanying briefing note, we understand sector-related collective bargaining as any kind of collective bargaining within the sector, i.e. single-employer bargaining as well as multi-employer bargaining. For the definition of single- and multi-employer bargaining, see 4.2)
  • trade unions that are a member of the sector-related ETF;
  • employer associations that are a party to sector-related collective bargaining;
  • employer associations that are a member of the sector-related CER and the European Rail Infrastructure Managers (EIM).

2a Data on the unions

Union density is defined as the ratio of union members to potential union members, as demarcated by the union’s domain and by the sector.

If the domain of a union embraces only part of the sector, then the data on density should refer to this part.

National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT)
2a.1 Type of membership (voluntary or compulsory) Voluntary
2a.2 Formal demarcation of membership domain RMT is the UK’s fastest growing trade union, representing members in almost every sector of the transport industry, from mainline and underground rail to shipping, buses and road freight (administrative data, A). In practice, although RMT seeks to recruit in all areas of the rail industry, it is primarily recognised for membership among blue-collar workers throughout the network – such as non-drivers on trains, platform staff and signal maintenance workers.
2a.3 Number of members 67,476 members, 60,154 men and 7,322 women (Source: TUC website).
2a.4 Number of union members in the sector An estimated 44,000 members are employed in the railway sector as a whole. It was not possible to differentiate for the infrastructure sector.
2a.5 Female union members as a % of total union membership 10.9% (personal estimates from interviews with the association’s representatives, E).
2a.6 Density with regard to the union domain Difficult to estimate.
2a.7 Density of the union with regard to the sector 33.8% in the railway sector as a whole.
2a.8 Does the union conclude collective agreements? Yes.
2a.9 Interest affiliation At national level, RMT is affiliated to TUC. At European level, it is affiliated to ETF.
Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA)
2a.1 Type of membership (voluntary or compulsory) Voluntary
2a.2 Formal demarcation of membership domain Administrative, clerical, supervisory, managerial, professional and technical employees in railways, the London Underground, buses, road haulage, port authorities and waterways in the UK and Ireland. It also represents employees in the travel trade, hotel and catering industries (administrative data, A) – i.e. TSSA is a union representing white-collar workers.
2a.3 Number of members 32,426 members in 2004 (Source: TSSA annual report 2004 (1.12Mb PDF)).
2a.4 Number of union members in the sector 17,931 members employed in the railway sector in 2004 (A).
2a.5 Female union members as a % of total union membership About 30% (E). This assumes that the gender profile for railway sector members follows the overall gender profile for union membership.
2a.6 Density with regard to the union domain Difficult to estimate.
2a.7 Density of the union with regard to the sector 13.8% in the railway sector as a whole.
2a.8 Does the union conclude collective agreements? Yes.
2a.9 Interest affiliation At national level, TSSA is affiliated to TUC. At European level, it is affiliated to ETF.

2b Data on the employer associations

No associations exist that are specific to rail infrastructure.

Employer density in terms of companies is defined as the ratio of member companies to the potential member companies, as demarcated by the employer associations’ domain and by the sector.

Employer density in terms of employees is defined as the ratio of the number of employees working in the member companies to the number of employees working in the potential member companies, as demarcated by the employer associations’ domain and by the sector.

If the domain of an employer association embraces only part of the sector, then the data on density should refer to this part.

3. Inter-associational relationships

3.1 Unions whose domains overlap

RMT’s domain overlaps, in minor ways, with TSSA.

3.2 Do rivalries and competition exist among the unions, concerning the right to conclude collective agreements and to be consulted in public policy formulation and implementation?

In practice, demarcation disputes seldom occur and relationships between the unions are primarily based on cooperation.

3.3 If yes, are certain unions excluded from these rights?

Certain unions are only excluded from these rights in the sense that they do not cover certain grades of employment as defined by their domain. For example, TSSA has sole negotiating rights for managers at most major employers. In these situations, the other railway sector unions are excluded.

4. The system of collective bargaining

Collective agreements are defined according to national labour law regardless of whether they are negotiated under a peace obligation.

4.1 Sector’s rate of collective bargaining coverage

It is difficult to provide a precise estimate for the sector’s rate of collective bargaining. Bargaining occurs at the large employers, so the rate of coverage can be considered to reach 100%.

4.2 Relative importance of multi-employer agreements and of single-employer agreements as a percentage of the total number of employees covered

No multi-employer collective bargaining takes place in the sector. All agreements have been reached at the individual employer level. This has been the case since 1996 with the privatisation of the rail industry.

4.2.1 Is there a practice of extending multi-employer agreements to employers who are not affiliated to the signatory employer associations?

No.

5. Formulation and implementation of sector-specific public policies

5.1 Are the sector’s employer associations and unions usually consulted by the authorities in sector-specific matters? If yes, which associations?

The individual trade unions, as well as TUC, routinely make submissions to bodies such as the UK Department of Transport, the Greater London Authority, The Scottish Executive and the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR).

5.2 Do tripartite bodies dealing with sector-specific issues exist?

The Sector Skills Council for Passenger Transport – Go Skills – is an employer-led body, which covers all passenger transport, and consults, although mainly with employers, on the issue of skills. As regards health and safety, as of 1 April 2006, this is now the responsibility of ORR.

6. Statutory regulations of representativeness

6.1 In the case of the unions, do statutory regulations exist which establish criteria of representativeness which a union must meet, so as to be entitled to conclude collective agreements?

Statutory trade union recognition legislation passed in 1999 governs union recognition, though this is not specific to the railway sector. The legislation may only be used where union density is at least 10% in the proposed bargaining unit, and where the employer has over 20 employees (UK0007183F). It is more common, however, for unions to first seek voluntary recognition before invoking statutory procedures. Indeed, some limited evidence exists to suggest that the presence of statutory legislation has encouraged some employers to enter into voluntary agreements with trade unions (UK9903189F). This certainly appears to have been the case with regard to TSSA’s attempts to secure recognition for management staff. The preferred strategy of the union has been to seek voluntary recognition. In the vast majority of cases this has been achieved without the need to resort to pursuing statutory recognition through the CAC.

6.2 In the case of the unions, do statutory regulations exist which establish criteria of representativeness which a union must meet, so as to be entitled to be consulted in matters of public policy and to participate in tripartite bodies? If yes, please briefly illustrate these rules and list the organisations which meet them.

No.

6.3. Are elections for a certain representational body (e.g. works councils) established as criteria for union representativeness? If yes, please report the most recent electoral outcome for the sector.

No.

7. Commentary

The sector is dominated by Network Rail. The company subcontracts work to other engineering companies, many of which have developed specialist rail divisions since privatisation of the industry in 1996, but following a series of public safety problems has pursued a policy of in-house maintenance work.

Jim Arrowsmith and Duncan Adam, IRRU, University of Warwick

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