Postal strike – bullies in the background

November 5, 2009

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 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.

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