Postal workers will soon be under pressure to deliver junk mail to every household
Postal workers have voted overwhelmingly to accept a deal to end the long-running dispute with the Royal Mail.
The deal, called Business Transformation 2010 and Beyond, was hammered out in extensive negotiations between the Communications Workers Union and the Royal Mail, following strike action last year. The result of the ballot was 2:1 in favour of the deal.
Meanwhile preparations for implementing the agreement are already under way.
In a new document, seen by this writer, Royal Mail has laid out its plans for introducing door-to-door (D2D) into the workload. “Door-to-door” or “household” is the technical name for the unaddressed leaflets and flyers customers usually refer to as junk mail.
D2D is not currently counted as part of the workload. Postal workers are paid separately for it and are expected to insert the material into their sorting frames in their own time. In practice what this generally means is that D2D items are “thrown off” into the frame on less busy days and then delivered along with the rest of the mail over the week. The usual practice is to leave the D2D in the frame until there is live mail to deliver with it.
The Royal Mail document, Planning the Introduction of Door-to-Door into Workload, sets out the new working arrangements. D2D is to be inserted in the frame on a daily basis at the rate of 1/6th per day over a six-day week. Currently no D2D is delivered on a Saturday. All mail is then to be taken out, including D2D to households without live mail. This is referred to in the document as “cold-calling”.
The usual calculation for the number of houses with live mail is 85%. This means that, on average, 15% of households will be “cold-called”, that is, will receive piles of D2D without accompanying mail on a weekly basis. It also means that delivery span times will have to be extended to accommodate the extra deliveries.
The document then goes on to calculate the amount of time that it will take to insert D2D into the frame, as follows:
• 1 contract – 4 mins per day
• 2 contracts – 8 mins per day
• 3 contracts– 10 mins per day
• 4 contracts – 11 mins per day
• 5 contracts – 12 mins per day
• 6 contracts – 14 mins per day
This is truly frightening. 1/6 of 500 is 83. So we will be expected to throw off 83 items in four minutes. You can try to imagine this if you like. The frames are about six feet across, from waist high to just above our heads, and contain all the slots representing all the different addresses on a round. The D2D will be inserted last, once the frames are already full of mail, and we will be expected to load this at the rate of 83 items in four minutes. This is almost certainly impossible.
I know from experience that it takes about 30 minutes to fill my entire frame of 600 slots with one item of D2D in the form of a standard-sized letter. Standard letters are easy to handle, but D2D comes in all shapes and sizes: from small postcard-sized leaflets, to large glossy A4 sheets which flop about. It always takes much longer to load these into the frame as they tend to stick together.
The document also makes it clear is that there are plans to absorb up to six items into each round. Currently the limit is three. This means not only extra time for delivery, but also extra weight. More bags will be required to carry all the additional items: more visits to drop-off points to collects bags, more time out on delivery.
You will also see that, while four minutes each is allowed for items 1 and 2, item 3 will only be allowed two minutes and item 4, one minute.
The document lays out in detail how this is to be done:
• Position one pile of D2D on bench for each contract
• Take item from top of each pile and place collated items in slot for each delivery point on that day’s schedule
• Tidy away D2D
• Clear down D2D with ordinary mail from slots containing live mail
Translated into ordinary English, what this means is creating little bundles of D2D consisting of all of the separate items, and then shovelling these, collectively, into the frame. For six items of D2D we will be given 14 minutes a day to make up these bundles and then to stick 83 of them into the frame.
You wonder how the Royal Mail has gone about making their calculations? I guess there may be some experienced sorters able to keep up this kind of rate, but they are rare. And what happens then if postal workers fall below the requirements? This is almost certain to happen. Will we be penalised for it? Can we be disciplined? Will managers be paid bonuses to enforce this arbitrary and unfeasible work rate?
Royal Mail already has a culture of overbearing managers who will use any excuse to pressurise staff in order to maximise their bonuses.
This new agreement seems to give them carte blanche to extend the practice.