One battle we just have to win!

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.

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‘Me and the farmer’.

‘Me and the farmer get on fine, through stormy weather and bottles of wine. If I pull my weight he’ll treat me well, but if I’m late he’ll give me hell’. Those are the words from the first verse of The Housemartin’s number 15 hit from just over 28 years ago, in September 1987. These words still ring true almost three decades later. As the grandson of a former farmer, my family has first hand experience of just how difficult a profession it is and exactly just how hard you have to work in order to make any kind of living from it. And yet still, our government’s treatment of the farming industry remains a joke.

In theory, British farming should have an exciting future ahead of it. Generally British produce is regarded around the world as being of exceptionally high standards, and there is still a huge interest across the UK for us to buy locally produced produce. Today’s farmer has also changed and so should our perception of the job and the people who do it. Ask today’s public how they perceive a farmer to be and they’ll still describe a man with a flat cap and a tweed jacket wearing wellies. Throw in a pipe and some hay for his mouth and you’ve got the guy who grew your potatoes and vegetables for your Sunday roast. In reality however, it’s so much different to that. The average age of the farmer is dropping rapidly. Add to that the fact that more and more of today’s farmers are actually women and you’ll have a vision of a profession that is far more progressive than it’s actually portrayed. Today’s farmers are much more likely to operate a drone in their field or sat at their computer planning a GPS route for their driverless tractor. They may even be a scientist helping to combat disease, and you don’t even have to milk a cow to qualify.

You may ask after all these positives, why is the general tone of this article still so negative? Well despite the fact that our British farmers are capable of producing such high quality goods such as milk, the reality is that it represents less than half the UK dairy market. In fact we have a dairy deficit. Less than half the butter we eat in this country comes from UK milk and only a third of the cheese. We do however import 40,000 tonnes of cheddar even though you could hardly think of a more British product. We do however, now produce over 700 different types of cheeses, which is now more than the French. It’s not only British cheeses that we make in this country, we also take on the best of the foreign competitors at their own game. The majority of the mozzarella that you eat on your pizza is now made in this country. UK farmers have had to open up over 600 food and drink outlets outside Europe to their producers in order to make their work sustainable, and this is where the government fall sadly down.

The government should be cutting more red tape and improving planning rules in order to cut down on the amount of inspections and save farmers time and taxpayers money. They should also be leaning on the supermarkets much heavier in order to try to stop them undercutting the hard-working farmers. These measures would help to reduce the recent figures that some 87,000 farmers and farm workers had left the profession between 1993 and 2005, with some 18,000 more leaving in 2006 alone. These figures although alarming should prove a stark warning to the current government, that the legacy left by extremely hard-working farmers such as my granddad shouldn’t be allowed to drift away by uncaring bureaucrats such as David Cameron or George Osborne. So as I prepare to stand for my beloved Liberal Democrats in next years local elections, what would I attempt to bring to the party? The only promise I can make is that I will stand shoulder to shoulder with the great farmers of this country as I’m determined to make sure my granddads legacy will not die. I am prepared to make a stand, to continually communicate with them and make sure they have an increasingly louder voice in the future of their livelihood as one of the hardest working corners of our society. Like the Englishman who proudly thumps the lion on his chest, I too proudly thump the swallow of liberty on my jacket, as I know a vote for the Liberal Democrats equals a vote for equality for every member of our society.

 

 

My life and politics.

I was born in the rather average year of 1979. Not a lot happened in 1979, other than the first million pound footballer (some young man by the name of Trevor Francis from Birmingham to Nottingham Forest). Oh and the little fact that the country had it’s first female Prime-minister in shape of one Margaret Hilda Thatcher, who led the Conservatives back into power at the expense of James Callaghan’s Labour in May of that year.

This meant that from my birth up until my final year of Primary school, I had only ever known a Thatcher led Conservative government. ‘Thatcher Thatcher, the milk snatcher’ had loomed large in the background of my formative years. In fact even when she stepped down in November 1990 (shortly after my 11th birthday) she would be replaced by Mr Charisma himself John Major, who would stay in power until May 1997. This meant that I was six months short of my 18th birthday before I knew anything of a non-Conservative government. I mean does the world understand fully what this can do a young impressionable man?

As I said, with my birthday not being until November 12th, I was six months short of being able to have my first vote in that May 1997 election. I have to admit to being like the rest of the country and getting swept up in the bandwagon that was Mr Tony Blair. Despite having very Liberal views, I figured that anything was better than another five years of Tory rule. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, be very careful what you wish for.

As the so called joy’s of finally being able to vote, mixed in with a student life that was lived to the maximum, it seemed we had encountered another problem. Despite the amount of times I voted for the Liberal Democrats, I got another Tony Blair led Labour government, and then another one. Hadn’t we been here before in my first 17 years? Deja vu of the highest order. Having settled down to real life, got married in 2009 and had my daughter Freya in April 2010, it seemed she was heading towards a problem like mine. Her formative years would be spent under a Labour government. Then shortly after her birth (less than a month to be precise) we got a breakthrough. A hung parliament. Labour were out on their ear and the Tories were back in off the back of a coalition with a much more sensible Liberal Democrats. Now it seemed this is what our country had been waiting for. With our very own Nick Clegg as deputy Prime-minister, the country could finally get back to basics.

Roll on May 2015. Oh what a night. What an horrendous night. We were left high and dry by the very same Tory partners. Poor Nick was left with little option but to resign and we were left with the sight of an extremely smug David Cameron on our television’s and on the front of every national newspaper for weeks, followed by a loud cry of ‘Cuts, cuts, cuts’ wherever he walked. The day after the election, I looked deep into the dark brown eyes of my (now 5 year old) beautiful daughter, and I told her ‘you have no idea of the heartache that your generation is going to suffer in the coming years’. To which she replied, ‘Daddy get out of the way, Peppa Pig is on’.

So what next I hear you cry? Well I figured, it wasn’t enough any more to just vote Liberal and then moan about it. I figured it was time to do something about it. The day after the election, I, like 17,000 others, joined the Liberal Democrats. The world doesn’t just change itself, you have to change it for it, or so I told myself. I found myself a group of like minded individuals in the Fareham area and together we will change our community one day at a time as I feel damned if I will allow my daughter to grow up like I did in a country that only knows a creaking Tory government. As I ponder where to stand in next years council elections, I believe that one day Freya will come to me and say, ‘thank-you daddy for changing our society’. Is this dream possible? Will it ever happen?…..watch this space.