Workplace, Trade Unions, Strikes

Royal Mail: profits up, pay down as CWU prepares strike ballot

31 May 2022
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By A CWU Rep

AS FRONTLINE workers, postal workers were praised for continuing to work through two years of a pandemic, delivering tens of millions of test kits as well as the daily needs in the middle of lockdown. Royal Mail bosses joined in, happy to slap us on the back while shareholders coined in the massive profits from pandemic parcels.

Then in November a £400 million special dividend and share buy-back scheme for shareowners was announced. But where’s the workers’ pay out? And now after the company announced adjusted operating profits of £758 million on 19 May, they’ve got no excuse!

We are all in the middle of an historic cost of living crisis, with nearly a year of inflation eating away at our wages. The Communications Workers Union (CWU) requested a one-off pay rise back in February, which management ignored.

Insult after injury
An angry CWU national conference in April passed an emergency motion, giving Royal Mail a week to give an acceptable offer or a dispute would be officially declared. Despite four weeks of negotiations, this will likely result in a June ballot of 120,000 postal workers.

Initially Royal Mail bosses offered zero pay rise—unless the CWU agreed a raft of measures to hike workload and flexibility. A miserly 2% pay increase, way below inflation which is close to 10%, was tied to conditions, like compulsory Sunday working, in an offer with ‘more strings than Thunderbirds’ to quote CWU leader Terry Pullinger. Totally correct. Other strings included:

An additional 3.5% (to come later) was conditional on further strings and a productivity scheme based on achieving unspecified ‘targets’. The only target here is us!

In meeting after meeting angry workers have greeted CWU leaders, there to explain the situation and why they have to stand up and get ready to ballot, with an outpouring of support. Hundreds of gate and canteen meetings over the last two weeks in delivery offices, mail centres, Parcelforce depots and other sections have seen thousands of staff with signs stating ‘you praised us, now pay us’ and ‘I’m voting yes’.

It has had an immediate effect. Royal Mail quickly cut the strings to offer a 2% flat deal. But no one thinks that is enough.

Pay or profit
CEO Simon Scott claims that a 1% pay rise costs £42 million for the company. Their profits are literally our pay rise. Board members blocking this include the part-time 3-day-a-month directors on £70,000 plus a year. During the pandemic, none of them had to work in crowded offices, face customers on the doorstep or walk busy high streets, putting ourselves and loved ones at risk. Official statistics show manual workers were three times more likely to die from covid than managers and directors.

Workers have also been subjected to the stress of last year’s revisions, rammed through every office in a few short months, leaving chaos and disruption. We are absolutely right to demand a no-strings pay rise to reward our efforts and cancel inflation’s effects.

As Terry explained to members in an online meeting, ‘you cannot back off, you can’t afford to because if you back off once, then it starts’, bosses keep coming back for more concessions.

Royal Mail may have dropped the strings but they are still pursuing them alongside the pay deal, claiming they need efficiency savings and a ‘revolution’ in Sunday working—to capture more markets and profits.

They are also doubling down on propaganda against the union. Videos to staff claim the union has refused to negotiate—but why talk if top boss Scott isn’t present? It’s a sign that they aren’t serious and just want the union to go round and round in circles.

As usual the millionaire press that used to praise us is now reprinting lightly edited Royal Mail press releases, claiming the company ‘is at a crossroads’, with the pandemic parcel market tailing off, economic growth declining and inflation rising. But parcel deliveries are up 24% compared with pre-pandemic levels. Even letter volumes have recovered 3% from their pandemic trough. Some crisis!

I-news gushed about clapping for frontline heroes a year ago, but now argues that ‘Royal Mail needs to reinvent itself to compete with DPD and Amazon, with or without its postal workers.’ Where would it be without its workers? Postal bosses will soon find out!

Bring on the ballot
In a strike nothing gets done and no profits are produced. This is the only language the bosses understand. We need a ballot and a big yes vote to show them we mean business, and they can’t just reward the owners and give us peanuts.

The union is preparing for a ballot now. The four weeks of intensive negotiations are coming to an end. Unfortunately even now workers don’t know what the CWU offer is—it’s secret, like the negotiations, but union members need to know. Behind closed doors diplomacy must end to show that we are serious.

Like in every dispute, rank and file initiative will be what powers it, but rank and file control of the struggle will prove key to winning our full demands.

We need to insist on an inflation busting pay rise, 10% or higher—that’s the real rate of inflation. But Royal Mail won’t give in without a fight. Reps and activists need to explain the issues behind the pay, especially to new starters, countering Simon Scott’s propaganda on the ‘Workplace’ app and at work.

CWU activists and reps should hold meetings, offsite or in the workplace, to prepare a campaign of rallies and meetings, bulletins and social media in the build up to the ballot. There must be no ‘executive action’ or management-imposed changes on the shopfloor along the lines of the strings. Any attempt should be met with walkouts wherever possible.

Workers should insist there is no delay to the ballot. The crisis of living is biting now and we’ve been waiting a year while bills and prices have been skyrocketing. We need to ballot and if we can’t get 10% get ready to strike.

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