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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.

 In a letter to Lord Mandelson sent yesterday the GMB union has asked for investigation of breaches in the law in Slough, Bristol and Dartford and “does not rule out enforcement proceedings against Business Department and the Government if they fail to act”.
GMB last month set up a hotline 0208 971 4217 for members of the public to report breaches of the law by employment agencies.
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GMB has almost 600,000 members working in every part of the economy. One in every 32 people at work in the UK is a member of GMB and GMB is organised in 34 of the UK’s biggest 50 companies

Postal worker/blogger Roy Mayall (pseudonym) holds forth on ‘modernisation’ in ‘The Guardian’ (see also my posts: “Is modernisation the real issue?” and “Postal Union heads for High Court”.

Roy says: “The reason this strike is unique is that it has nothing to do with pay. It is about the future of the Royal Mail itself – us postal workers are being portrayed as like dinosaurs clinging to our outdated and outmoded working practices. What the Royal Mail needs is a good dose of modernisation, we are told…

…I guess it depends on what you mean by “modernisation”. At times, the so-called “modernisation programme” is a farce. I know of someone working in a delivery office in Cambridgeshire who was in tears recently. Apparently he had been given 100 extra calls to make on his daily round but couldn’t fit them into his shift. His manager told him he was going to receive “refresher training”. When he asked what this involved, the manager replied: “How to walk faster…”

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Royal Mail – er.. I mean Roy Mayall – (a pseudonym) has been a delivery postal worker for five years. He(she?) writes for the London Review Blog – revealing some of the realities behind current working conditions and politics (and why they need strong trade union protection in the workplace). Here is some of what Roy has to say about Peter Mandelson’s comment on TV in May: ‘Figures are down’:

It’s the joke at the delivery office. ‘Figures are down’, we say, and laugh as we pile the fifth or sixth bag of mail onto the scales and write down the weight in the log-book. It’s our daily exercise in fiction writing…we hear that sentence almost every day at work when management are trying to implement some new initiative which involves postal workers like me working longer hours for no extra pay, carrying more weight, having more duties

Fellow postal worker Pat Stamp comments on the blog:

“Like Roy Mayall…I am a postman and concerned at the absence in the media of any account of how mail delivery is organised and what Royal Mail’s modernisation programme entails. The programme was introduced because the popularity of email and texting has caused a drop in mail volume. Royal Mail’s first step was to reduce the number of ‘walks’. It did this by cutting some walks in each area and making the remaining walks longer. A postman who normally delivered mail to six streets, say, now found himself delivering to eight or nine. During the summer months, when mail volumes were low, he could perhaps, just cope with this. But as autumn begins and the Christmas catalogues start to come out, every week and sometimes every day can be heavy. In the run-up to last Christmas, there were postman who only finished their walks at 7 or 8.p.m., sometimes two or three times a week. In one depot alone, around 15 postman phonen in sick. This Christmas, with the even longer walks, it could be worse. Royal Mail is a strong promoter of general health and safety, but as the walks lengthen and the loads increase, many of us feel that our own health and safety isn’t being taken into consideration…”

To find out more about day-to-day working conditions of delivery staff read Roy’s blog – see this London Review: Roy Mayall’s diary:

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The Guardian reports today – The Communication Workers Union (postal) is due to take the Royal Mail to the High Court this week. The Royal Mail is allegedly illegally employing agency staff to break the strike.

See this Guardian report: Hiring of temporary workers is illegal says union.

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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…