Articles  •  Britain

Royal Mail/CWU: “a fresh approach” to delivery issues: lose them

15 December 2013

Royal-MailBy a CWU DO rep
It’s been widely known, since the 4 November national briefing of local officials and full-time reps, that outdoor delivery was the big sticking point in negotiations. Not surprisingly since this is the most difficult to automate, and competition is hotting up with rival TNT rolling out its city centre delivery network.
Despite weeks of talks, Royal Mail clearly wouldn’t be moved on its plans to impose budgets by hiking flexibility and absorption, efficiency speed-ups and the pressure and bullying that goes with it. And it looks like CWU negotiators blinked first. A 26 November Letter to Branches already stated that differences over “delivery workload issues” hadn’t been resolved so “a fresh approach” was being considered – what this hinted at has now become clear, delivery issues have been left out of the agreement.
1. There is nothing at all about impossible 100 percent BSI efficiency standards, where computer programmes plan hours budgets using figures that assume workers work constantly at the top rate of speed like in a factory. 100 BSI is used by planners to slash hours and by managers as a whip to speed up workers. The same goes for the walk speeds, throw in times, and other unachievable standards agreed in the past by the postal executive and used to bully workers by managers.
2. There is nothing on the right to refuse to work overtime which is the number one cause of bullying on the shopfloor right now and number one issue for staff and reps – management bullying was the one issue that Royal Mail CEO Moya Green was loudly booed on when she spoke at the 12 September national reps meeting. Despite the “Royal Mail and CWU National Joint Statement – Fairness, Dignity and Respect in Delivery” agreed in March 2013, bullying has increased sparking strikes, sit-ins and walkouts throughout the summer and autumn, most recently at Crewe. That shows how seriously Royal Mail takes the issue and paper agreements.
3. A “clarification” clause about the thirty minute flexibility rule has clarified nothing, just repeated what has been written many times before (for instance the Joint Statement above). The 2007 flexibility agreement allows managers to “request” (ie order) staff work thirty minutes extra “when traffic volumes are unexpectedly high or resourcing issues arise”. Originally the official union line was that this was for for exceptions like where road traffic accidents blocked mail wagons getting to the office on time, ie almost never, but in the last couple of years in many areas this has been extended to covering first day absences, and managers push it even further.
All this “clarification” will do is enshrine this state of affairs, so that emergency absorption becomes the norm, after all people ring in sick all the time and the traffic is always up and down, with bulk postings coming through without any warning. When workers object its too much work, they will be told they can’t work to their time (2) because they are inefficient (1), just like now.
Instead of pinning Royal Mail down on these crucial issues, the agreement instead promises a review starting in January. But if the new agreement can’t deal with issues like BSI then how can a review resolve them? Royal Mail might make a few token concessions but it won’t retreat from its efficiency drive, its more likely CWU negotiators will make yet more concessions. The review will be overseen by the government mediation body ACAS, with a posh lawyer or government bureaucrat in charge, where efficiency will be the number one priority not fairness. Till then “all existing national agreements, joint statements and guidelines covering delivery will be adhered to and remain in place.” That’s a green light to every office manager to keep up the pressure on delivery staff.
Bad deal for delivery
The pay aspect of the deal would be even better if posties got a pound every time the agreement talks about efficiency, mentioned nearly thirty times! Royal Mail and the CWU are seeking “further improvements to efficiency” together. A review will aim “to identify efficient and fair ways to align resources to workload in delivery” the holy grail of CWU officials since the market opened in 2006, and just as impossible to find – the fairness always gets lost in the drive for efficiency. Targets will of course be “realistic achievable and sustainable” just like in 2010 and the 2007 flexibility agreement, another meaningless phrase in every one of these agreements. All this will leave many delivery workers with the feeling that the target has been pinned to their back!
And other aspects of the deal will hit delivery workers particularly hard, like the get-out clauses that make a mockery of the five year “protections” against zero hours contracts, two tier workforce, and franchising. With TNT rolling out city centre delivery operations based on low wages and zero hour contracts, and Amazon building local hubs so it can use cheaper local delivery companies, Royal Mail bosses will put huge pressure on CWU negotiators to make concessions or face the company pulling out of the protections one by one – which means they aren’t really protections.
The fact is agreement has left delivery issues in the ditch, for us to fight over after the deal is balloted on – not a good sign. Delivery office staff should mark it return to sender with a big No vote.
For an analysis of the full deal read this: A workers guide to the deal: the small print

For a fuller analysis read this: Royal Mail workers should reject the deal

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