Now generally speaking, I’m a very patient man. Easy going, and definitely easy to get on with. However, if you rub me up the wrong way I don’t easily forget. Hence a warning to Ms Moya Greene, CEO of Royal Mail. I have been a postman in Fareham for 15 years now and deputy union rep in our office for the CWU for just over 18 months. Why get involved with the union I hear you cry? Well one simple reason. I’m a people person, I love nothing better than putting myself out there to help my fellow members, especially if it’s at the expense of Royal Mail. Everyone deserves the right to representation and a careful word of advice in the ear at the right time. People work harder, better and for longer if they know there’s someone out there who’s got their back.
When I first started at Royal Mail in October/November 2002, the general view of the village/town post-person was someone who rode in on their bicycle, bag of mail on the front, smile on their face and a polite word for any customer that they came into contact with. I would like to think that most of this vision is still true. The bike may have long since gone, replaced by two post people working from a shared van, with a lightweight (golf-like) trolley replacing the bike. The bikes were cleaned up and shipped out for use in South Africa over five years ago now. Whereas once-upon-a-time your letters would hit your front mat about 7am, our first letters are now generally put through around 9.30/10am. The working day used to begin at 5am and finish around 11am/12pm (unless you did the copious amounts of overtime that were always available), now we start at 6am and finish at 2pm. The politeness is still there, the smile certainly is, however in a lot of cases you need to be some kind of athlete to get rounds which have anything up to 600 houses on them.
We are in for an autumn/winter of discontent for the polite and happy post person. Since the then Prime minister David Cameron took great delight in selling Royal Mail down the river in 2013, there have been constant attacks on our hours, pay and working conditions. None more serious than the current plans announced by Royal mail ahead of the ending of the agreement in 2018. The current agreement was made between Mr Cameron, Royal Mail and CWU (communication workers union) back in 2013 as the company was finally released by the government ahead of plans to privatise us. Included in the plans this time are savage attack on our pensions and more alarmingly those of any new entrants from March of next year. I recently attended a large union meeting/rally in London underlining the four pillars of security.
What are the four pillars of security I hear you ask? I will attempt to briefly describe them:
Pillar 1: A pension solution for all- will see the end to the two tier retirement provision with a better single pension that will give us dignity and respect in retirement.
Pillar 2: A shorter working week- will give us a better work life balance, improve our health and well being and increase hourly rates over a measured period of time.
Pillar 3: An extension to our legally binding agreements- will protect our existing terms and conditions, with no break-up of the business, no introduction of a two tier workforce.
Pillar 4: Re-design of the Royal Mail pipeline- will allow us to develop and deliver new products across a wider delivery window, where our competitors operate. This will improve the prospect of more full-time jobs and job security.
Royal Mail however, have offered us an attack on our current pensions, with a far inferior pension being offered to new entrants to the business from the end of March 2018, thus creating a two tier workforce. In terms of the shorter working week, we are aiming for a 35 hour week to bring us into line with the rest of Europe. Royal mail have offered us half an hour off our working week as long as we agree to their terms which includes taking away all of our current bonus structures, our sick pay (they state that no employee will be paid for the first three days of any absence) and offering us a £250 lump sum (taxed obviously) if we agree to all of this and the cuts/savings they wish to impose thereafter. Royal Mail also wish to stretch our working day to a six hour delivery span which will begin by changing our working hours to 7am starts and 3pm finishes and by the end of all the savings, moving us to a 9am start and 5pm finish so we can make the same-day deliveries that they claim our customers crave?
So just who is the brains behind these ideas? Well the ball was started rolling by Ms Moya Greene the current CEO of Royal Mail. A Canadian who previously held the same position in Canada Post from 2005-2010. During her time in charge of Canada Post she trebled their profits to C$281 million through cost cutting by increasing automation and cost cutting through absenteeism (ringing any bells?). However, the union bosses in Canada said during her tenure injuries had gone up by 15.4% and grievances by 59.3%. Ms Greene seems to slowly be taking a step back now as she has a non-executive role at EasyJet. She has just pocketed a cool £1.2 million bonus for a two-day week at Royal Mail whilst putting forward the idea that all postmen and women should forfeit theirs in order to take the business forward. The shareholders have seen a rising dividend every year since the company was floated some three/four years ago.
So in conclusion, an autumn/winter of discontent is in store for all of us who care about Royal Mail. From the people inside the sorting offices to the boys and girls out on delivery, from the wagon drivers right down to the customers out on the street. Nobody in their right mind wants to strike, it would be a last resort for any of us, but as the CWU and Royal Mail have never been further apart in their visions for the business going forward it seems inevitable. The CWU mantra is ‘Unity is Strength’, never has this been more apt than right now. I say to my customers back the boys and girls who bring the warmth that this institution is famous for to your doorstep, or that vision of a happy, smiley, polite postman/lady in your village/town will disappear forever.