I heard about the proposed privatisation of the Royal Mail on Saturday. One of my work mates sent me a text. It was my long weekend, so yesterday was the first chance I’d had to gauge the response in the office. It wasn’t very good.
People are in two minds about the news that Vince Cable has decided to start selling off the service after Richard Hooper’s report calling for “urgent action”. A common quip was “well, it couldn’t be worse”. We’ve seen a marked reduction in the quality of service in recent years, and the general view of the management is that it is worse than useless. That’s not the term most posties would pick: the usual word is “shit”.
We were all out in the smoking shed, having a last break before heading out on our rounds. Dennis said: “Are we a business or a service? The public still think it’s a service, but the management treat it like a business. If it’s sold off it will just be a business and the service won’t count at all.”
Bob said: “The only way to modernise is to go back. We’re handing the business over to the competition. We have to start earlier. It used to be people would get their mail in the morning while they were eating their breakfast. Soon it’ll be coming while they’re eating their tea.”
Jim said: “I knew this was going to happen. They’ve been winding us down just to sell us off. It’s been on the cards for years.”
Bill said: “I can’t wait to be taken over by Mothercare.” Everyone laughed.
But there’s real gloom. People are worried about the future. We all know – regardless of what Hooper or Cable might say – that our workload is increasing. We have more junk mail. More brochures. More magazines. More bulk-mail advertising addressed to “The Householder” or “The Occupier”. Most of all, more packets – 30 to 40 every day on most rounds. Online shopping has really taken off, and a large percentage of it is being lugged around on our shoulders.
We also know that the main drain on the Royal Mail’s profit base is us subsidising the private mail companies by carrying their mail for them. They’ve extracted all the profitable trade from the banks and utilities, but once it comes to actually sticking it through letter boxes, that’s our job. It still lands on our frames for sorting and carrying. What chance do we have? We do the work, they take the profit.
Yet the last time I tried to call a meeting about the future, only three people turned up. We’re a soft office. After the last strike, a deal was reached between the Communications Workers Union and Royal Mail that caused real anger. Quite a lot of the guys saw it as a sellout and left the union then. They felt so betrayed. If the CWU call for a strike over privatisation, a large number of people in our office at least probably won’t come out again – even though the main worry is privatisation might mean a reduction in our terms and conditions.
Jerry said: “My first thought was it might be better. But then I think it’s really down to job cuts, and to slimming down the business. It’s going to be a worse service and more expensive for customers.”
Jim said: “They want us all to be on the minimum wage. Give it 12 months. They want a casual workforce. They’re moving towards dropping the bags off at people’s houses for them to deliver and no more fulltime jobs.”
George said: “That’s the end. They’ll terminate the contract. We’ll be given the option: change the contract or leave. The younger ones will leave because they’ll be able to find other work. The older ones won’t be able to leave.”
My work mates know who I am. I told them I was writing a story for the Guardian. What did they want to tell readers about the mood in the office? “It’s suicidal,” said Jerry. “It’s already a shit job and it’s about to get worse.”