Articles  •  Britain

A workers guide to the deal: the small print

16 December 2013

By a CWU Rep
1. PAY (Section 5)
The 9.06 per cent pay rise over three years, backdated to April, is only half a per cent more than was offered by Royal Mail as far back as July.
Like the original offer it can still be reopened if inflation changes, so it’s not set in stone
A promised incentive scheme will be agreed in 2014 and till then workers won’t know what it looks like, but it won’t compensate for the stress of working faster and faster that will produce the profits in the first place.
Royal Mail commits to maintain unchanged the “Nationally collectively agreed terms and conditions of employment” of workers, and not to create a two-tier workforce, use zero hours contracts, or break up the company by franchising, outsourcing or selling off divisions.
Some functions like IT can be reviewed for such measures in three years. But it is easy to sell-off, outsource or franchise such back office functions.
… and the get-out clauses
Beware, the Protections clause 2 is subject to clauses 3 and 7.
Clause 3 allows Royal Mail to outsource or sell-off parts of the company “before the date of this Agreement”. With a load of vicious hedge funds owning big stakes and calling the tune behind the scenes, there is a risk that Royal Mail could just rush through changes before a ballot result or agreement sign-off takes place.
Much more importantly, Clause 7 allows Royal Mail to pull out of a five year Protection clause if it ceases to be the designated Universal Service Obligation provider (not so likely) or if it these protections hurt or hurt its profits (much more likely). The two key clauses are quoted below:

c)    in the event that the Employer believes on reasonable grounds that any part of the business to which a Protection applies has ceased to be, or is likely to cease being, financially sustainable;
d)   in the event that the Employer believes on reasonable grounds that a significant event or series of events has occurred, or is likely to occur that has a material adverse effect, or is reasonably likely to have a materially adverse effect on: (i) the Employer’s business or prospects or (ii) the legal or regulatory basis on which the Employer operates (including but not limited to the Employer’s position as the sole Universal Service Provider);

As TNT rolls out city centre delivery operations based on low wages and zero hour contracts, and Amazon builds local hubs to be able to use cheaper local delivery companies, it is unlikely the protections will extend to five years without Royal Mail challenging them.
Any attempt by the CWU to seek a legal injunction against Royal Mail for breaking the five year “legally binding” Protections would be laughed out of court on the basis of clause 7, which is so vague it can cover any situation. So huge pressure will be put on the union to agree cuts and concessions whenever Royal Mail threatens to activate clause 7.
3. NO STRIKE CLAUSE (Section 3, 7.1.e)
Clause 7 has one final condition on the five year Protectsions: a no strike clause:

e) if there is national-scale industrial action (in the form of a strike or action short of a strike) which has been authorised at national level by the CWU, namely industrial action which either (i) involves employees in the majority of operational workplaces across Royal Mail Group Limited; or (ii) involves employees in an integral part of the operation whereby taking action will have, or is reasonably likely to have, a similarly disruptive effect.

So Royal Mail can pull out of the deal if there is a national work to rule, action involving fifty per cent plus one of workplaces, or even if there is industrial action by “employees in an integral part of the operation” where the action is “reasonably likely to have a similarly disruptive effect” presumably ruling out any mail centre strikes.
A series of “new processes alongside the IR Framework aimed at “mediation” will be added to the Industrial Relations Framework agreement and it is clear that mediation will take precedence over the IRF, which is important to allow workplace reps to disagree executive action.
There is an “overarching objective” to avoid compulsory redundancies, linked to employees remaining flexible about moving jobs – not a completely binding commitment.
This is coupled to a review of the key Managing the Surplus Framework (MTSF) agreement, which lays out tight rules binding Royal Mail on job losses and compensation and blocks compulsory redundancies. It is a worrying sign that another key agreement along with the IRF could be downsized.
5. DELIVERY REVIEW (Section 6)
Read analysis of this section here: Royal Mail/CWU: “a fresh approach” to delivery issues: lose them
For a fuller analysis read this: Royal Mail workers should reject the deal

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