Blogs seem to join up different issues. Climate Change. Working conditions. I’ve got various tags, categories and trends on this one now. The future of the Royal Mail and it’s staff is something I keep coming back to. Things have quietened down on the news front as far as the postal strike is concerned, but that doesn’t mean the issues go away.

The blogger Roy Mayall is featured on Radio 4’s Book of the Week “Dear Granny Smith” this week. Catch up with it in the Radio 4 archive. Billy Hayes (General Secretary of the Communication Workers Union) is discussing some of the issues Roy raises on the BBC Radio 4 consumer affairs programme “You and Yours”.

As for me, on this last day of the Climate Change talks in Copenhagen – I’m thinking – if they scrapped the Royal Mail’s current transport infrastructure altogether (including all it’s bicycles) – surely that would mean increasing carbon counts all round?

For some of my previous blog posts on this subject click on the categories  Royal Mail and Postal Strike.

Update:

I’ve just listened to the You and Yours BBC Radio 4 programme I mentioned earlier. The following points occurred to me. Firstly, I think the speakers underestimated the cultural (and political) impact of Roy Mayall’s work. From what I know of the postal service (having worked there myself) and from conversations with postal workers Roy is not simply presenting a sentimental view of what is happening, but he is also analysing current problems, some of which are hugely relevant to the recent postal strike and the current negotiations taking place.

Roy writes about walk-sequencing machines. He actually says they help the workload ‘a bit’ but not very much.  This is a really, really important point, which none of the speakers picked up on, I felt. It echoes what other postal workers have told me about the ways in which machines are being used (or not) and how effective (or ineffective) they actually are. See this post which I wrote during the strike. It includes a quote from a CWU union rep. Surely the question we need to be asking is: “How useful are they?”.

If you listen to this programme carefully you will hear one of the speakers say that the closure of mail centres will be a part of the ‘modernisation’ process. I’d like to hear what postal workers have to say about that one.

The Communication Workers Union and the Royal Mail have reached an interim agreement in a press release issued today, the CWU said:

The CWU’s postal executive yesterday (Thursday) unanimously endorsed the attached agreement. This agreement has been brought about by the strength of the union’s national strike ballot and the overwhelming support for the strikes.

 The interim agreement contains significant developments and concessions that have mainly emerged in the last few days. The interim agreement ensures that the long running bitter local disputes are now resolved by negotiation and agreement. These strikes developed as a result of management imposition and the interim agreement genuinely returns these issues back to the need to agree change.

 The interim agreement also ensures postal workers will work normally during the Christmas period, ensuring they get the chance to earn extra money. This is a benefit that has been denied to workers as Royal Mail has tried to build a casual workforce. The agreement also deals strongly with discipline cases, clear up arrangements and stops the growing practice in Royal Mail of taking people off pay.

 Most importantly, the interim agreement is very specific on how a full and final agreement will be shaped. It guarantees that Royal Mail will agree change and that workers will get real benefits from the modernisation of the business.

 Dave Ward, CWU deputy general secretary, said: “There is no doubt that the strength of support from postal workers in the strikes has made Royal Mail think again. They have made significant concessions this week that are clear for everybody to see. Those concessions have allowed us to suspend strike action and work towards a full and final agreement. The union has always been focused on achieving modernisation by consent and now the company has finally acknowledged that is how we must go forward.

 “The agreement ensures the imposed change that has led to the bitter local disputes will now be subject to negotiation and agreement. It also deals with with clear up arrangements and discipline but most crucially the interim agreement is clear in shaping the final agreement and the benefits that postal workers can now expect from the future.  

“Trust remains an issue between the union and the company but the introduction of an independent chair to continue the negotiations and fortnightly reviews will mean that nobody can walk away from this agreement.”  

The national ballot and all local ballots remain in place. 

Postal Strikes called off

November 5, 2009

The CWU has today announced that the postal strikes planned for Friday 6th November and Monday 9th November have been called off.

The CWU said: “CWU and Royal Mail have reached an interim agreement that was unanimously agreed by the union’s Postal Executive today. 

The interim agreement will provide a period of calm for the CWU and Royal Mail to reach a full and final agreement. The interim agreement guarantees that modernisation will be introduced with agreed job security and improved terms and conditions for postal workers. It also addresses all the issues included in the long running local disputes.  

The strike ballot remains in place. 

Dave Ward, CWU deputy general secretary, said: “There needs to be exceptional efforts to improve trust and relationships between CWU and Royal Mail. As a result both TUC and ACAS will have a continuing role to keep the discussions and agreement on track.” 

The details of the agreement are embargoed until 12noon Friday 6th November 2009.

 In a delivery office picket-line interview last Saturday – I discussed the dispute with official CWU steward Tom Astle. He told me: “As the service gets worse – the bonuses (of senior management like Adam Crozier) go up – they’re being rewarded for taking our jobs”.

“The Royal Mail promised in 2007 the union would have a say in the future direction of the business,” Tom said. “But we’re not getting the information we need…they’re trying to derecognise the union.”

I asked Tom about the new machines which are being introduced and what the union thought about them. (In an earlier blog post – I describe how a passing delivery worker said he thought the machines were a good idea but ‘the Royal Mail have had the money for them for two years and can’t get them to work’.)

Tom said the machines were walk-sorting sequencing machines (I’ve worked on both LSMs – letter sorting machines and IMPs – Integrated Mail Processors myself). He said they were up and running in Germany – but here  the Royal Mail were still going through the process of ‘trialling’ them. In other words, the machines don’t appear to be working yet and it’s an issue of bad management.

Whilst Tom and I were talking a lone voice behind me on the picket line said: “and then there’s the bullying”.

I turned round and said flatly: “Yes – I know all about that”. Having worked at the Royal Mail for five years, that’s true. But afterwards I realised my comment must have sounded dismissive and that I should have asked this postal worker what he meant and got something else on record. I was shocked at my own mindset which was,  I suppose – bullying is still so widespread at the Mail it’s not news.

I believe bullying is still deeply embedded in corporate practices (see reports from the  Oxford Mail Centre and more recently Swindon ). Anyone who is bullied and survives (and tragically in the history of the Royal Mail there are some who haven’t) will tell you it takes time to figure out what’s going on. When and if you ever do – you’re faced with stark ‘choices’. You speak up – risk making the situation worse – 0r keep quiet – and stay helpless. Either way, until and unless you quickly acquire skin like a rhino – as far as your emotional well-being is concerned and for a good while at least – (until you start fighting back) – you’re pretty much fucked. 

There are endless examples of ‘dysfunctional’ corporate working practices at the Royal Mail. Blogger Roy Mayall (a pseudonym) has recently been accused of being on the pay roll of a PR company. The accusation appears to be an attempt to discredit his writing which I hope is not going to work – simply because there are too many posties (I’ve had messages from at least three) who recognise the truth in what he is saying. It’s what blogging (at it’s best) was destined for: he’s describing human realities that don’t otherwise see the ‘light of print’.

 Every postperson is familiar with the so-called ‘attendance’ procedure which Roy describes. (See his piece Sick Postman get the Sack). Such a procedure would be outrageous and unacceptable in other workplace circumstances – where are the discussions to ‘modernise’ this procedure (from a human resources point of view?).

A source told me recently that  one-hour contracts of work are now being offered to postal workers in the North West. I’ve written before about what I call ‘part-time-full-time’ work contracts. This appears to be an extreme example about how far worker’s rights have been eroded at the Mail. What’s the story on these?

A worker is given a part-time contract (for example for one hour) – but for the majority of the time they may work up to forty hours a week or more. The rest of the thirty-nine (or more) hours is made up of what is called ‘overtime’. The total amount of work that a person is allocated can fluctuate from week to week according to demand. And of course employment rights ‘fluctuate’ too (as described in a previous post).

As far as anti-bullying procedures are concerned – they are in place at the Royal Mail – but there is at least one problem with them. Before a worker can access an employment tribunal – I believe they are required to complete internal disciplinary and grievance procedures. These are supposedly ‘independent’ but in fact there is the ever-present danger that the company ‘polices’ itself. 

The biggest bully of them all, though – has got to be the government. I couldn’t say it better than Gregor Gall of the Guardian:

“As the only shareholder, the government no longer sees maintenance of the service during a strike as a key aim so it does not intervene to force a peaceful resolution.

Instead, it wants Royal Mail to browbeat the CWU into submission so that Royal Mail is an out-and-out business making ever increasing profits. In order to do that, it has allowed Royal Mail to set the dogs on the CWU. The only thing is, the CWU is biting back and drawing blood

See Gregor’s article: The postal strike’s fiery war of words.

Talks between the Communication Workers Union and Royal Mail continue at Trades Union Council (TUC) headquarters in central London, chaired by TUC general secretary Brendan Barber. Both the union and Royal Mail have agreed not to speak publicly about the detail of the discussions so far. Negotiations will resume at the same venue this morning. 

The General Secretary of the CWU Billy Hayes explains why postal workers are taking the Royal Mail to the High Court this week over the company’s use of agency workers. See this Guardian podcast.

A CWU spokesperson said: “We’re disappointed  that Royal Mail appears to be more interested in sidelining the views and concerns of its staff rather than reaching an agreement to bring this dispute to an end…Instead of spending vast sums of money on untrained temporary workers we urge the Royal Mail to engage with talks to reach an agreement to get the permanent staff back to work…

  …Royal Mail is planning for failure here instead of addressing the concerns of its staff. Postal workers deserve more than this dismissive attitude…CWU remains available for talks to avoid a strike.”

The two national strikes on Friday 6th November and Monday 9th November – involving all 121,000 members in Royal Mail letters – are set to go ahead as planned.

It’s still the number one news story. Is there anything useful to add to the acres of newsprint produced already?  Many of us don’t  think twice about what happens to our mail after it disappears into   that red box. We should. The Guardian’s  undercover reporter  Steven Morris had a pretty good go at describing contemporary postal realities at the Royal Mail coal face this week.

But doing the job on a temporary basis (when you know you have another source of income to draw on) is very different from relying on it to survive. 

I worked at the Royal Mail for at least five years, both as an agency staff member and a Royal Mail employee. I was also a member of the Communication Worker’s Union Women’s Committee for a year. So readers – I’m going to try to ‘decode’ selected aspects of the jargon-filled negotiations for you… 

The word ‘modernisation’ crops up a lot  in press releases – giving the impression that postpeople are some sort of Luddites – opposed to the introduction of technology at every turn. I asked a passing delivery person what he thought of the ‘new machines’ which are being discussed. He said:

‘The idea of them is great – but management have had the money for them for two  years and they can’t get them to work – they seem to work fine in Germany though…’

Interesting , I thought. So postpeople on the ground are opposed to ‘modernisation’ are they?

Next up: ‘family-friendly policies’. What does that mean exactly? Of course – part-time work contracts can be very useful. To my knowledge though, there are still a large number of what I call ‘part-time-full-timers’ at the Royal Mail.  These are people who have been given part-time contracts but quite regularly (consistently or permanently) work full-time hours without the security, the breaks, the working conditions or the holiday entitlement offered by a full-time contract. I believe former colleagues of mine are still making up their hours with what is known as ‘overtime’.  

What does this system mean for a post person on a week-to-week basis? If it is the same as it was six years ago – a postal worker requests ‘overtime hours’ each week  like clockwork – with no guarantee that they will get the extra work.  This system appears to suit the employer very well – such ‘family-friendly’ contracts afford a great deal of flexibility for a business.

 What happens though, when the employer stops offering ‘overtime’? Why is the Royal Mail apparently so keen to introduce more of these contracts? Do these practices conform to the well-established European Directive on Part-time work?   Questions to bear in mind when listening to mainstream news…