The postal strike. Is ‘modernisation’ the real issue?

October 29, 2009

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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…

2 Responses to “The postal strike. Is ‘modernisation’ the real issue?”


  1. […] holds forth on ‘modernisation’ in ‘The Guardian’ (see also my posts: “Is modernisation the real issue?” and “Postal Union heads for High […]


  2. […] 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 […]

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