Solidarity Magazine » The blogging postman – Roy Mayall http://solidaritymagazine.org Fri, 01 Mar 2013 19:29:19 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.8 Royal Mail is not delivering http://solidaritymagazine.org/2011/06/royal-mail-is-not-delivering/ http://solidaritymagazine.org/2011/06/royal-mail-is-not-delivering/#comments Tue, 21 Jun 2011 09:35:26 +0000 http://solidaritymagazine.org/?p=1592 Continue reading ]]> As profits dive, it’s clear this management isn’t modernising, it’s running the company into the ground – but why?

Roy Mayall

 

Royal Mail’s profits fell from £180m in 2009 to £39m in 2010, a drop of around 78%. That sounds pretty disastrous, and is one of the reasons given for the impending privatisation of the company.

 

However, when you start to look more closely at the figures you begin to realise that all is not what it seems. For a start, the company did still make a profit, which is unique among public services. We don’t expect the police to make a profit, or the fire service or the NHS, do we? And I suspect that most of the British public aren’t at all worried if the Royal Mail makes a profit or not, as long as they get their letters delivered on time.

Historically the Royal Mail’s profits were used to subsidise the Post Office which is also an important public service. All of that will change, of course, when the Royal Mail is privatised and the link between the Royal Mail and the Post Office is broken. Once the Royal Mail is privatised, the Post Office will have to go its own way, and don’t be at all surprised when more and more rural post offices start to close, and the post office counter service becomes a small adjunct of Tesco, squeezed between the deli, the electrical counter and the pharmacy.

 

This shows you the mechanism by which the privatisation agenda operates. It splits a unified service into its constituent parts, hiving off the profitable bits, while keeping the unprofitable bits in the public domain. This is in effect a form of public subsidy. That which can make a profit is given over to the spivs and profiteers of the private sector, while the rest of us carry the can for the bits of the economy that can’t make a profit, thus threatening not only the particular services involved, but also the cohesion and unity of society as a whole.

 

Many blame the breakdown in Royal Mail profits on the incursion of new technology into the communications market. Or, as the Daily Mirror put it: “Royal Mail profits smashed by competition and Facebook.

 

This is simply not true. Most of the letters that people sent are still being sent. We might send birthday greetings to people we don’t know very well via Facebook, but how many of you have replaced the Christmas card list with a Facebook list in the last few years? Very few, I would suggest; none but the very young.

 

When you look at the real reason why profits are down it has virtually nothing to do with Facebook. It has everything to do with the Royal Mail spending vast amounts of money on a so-called modernisation programme that simply doesn’t work. £400m was spent on new machinery that actually slows down delivery.

 

We have two mail deliveries these days, instead of one. One is first thing in the morning, the way it used to be. The second is at about 9.20am in our office, which means full-time workers are now forced to take a break to wait for the lorry. So how is this “modernisation” exactly? By what process is it decided that a new machine which is slower than an old machine is actually more modern, just because you bought it more recently, or that having workers sitting around eating sandwiches is more efficient than having them delivering mail?

 

Millions more have been spent on a fleet of new vans to replace the bikes the Royal Mail intends to scrap. How crazy is that? To replace the world’s most energy-efficient machine, bar none with the polluting, inefficient internal combustion engine dependent on oil from the war-torn Middle East. To replace a tried and tested method of delivery in use for over 100 years, with an untried and untested method, that, everywhere it has been brought in, has been disastrous, as I’m sure people in a number of towns will testify.

 

Something very strange is happening here. It takes a radical redefinition of the English language to describe any of this as “modernisation”.

 

Also we have brand new uniforms. Who on Earth thought of that? Every single postal worker in the UK is being issued with a brand new set of clothes. New shirts, new trousers, new jackets, new caps, new waterproofs. And how much, exactly, did this cost, the refitting of an entire workforce? In this time of austerity and cutbacks, it seems, the Royal Mail judges fashion sense a more important issue than getting the mail delivered on time.

Finally, it is closing down hundreds of local delivery offices all over the country and relocating them to major city centre sites.

 

All of this is being done in the name of savings. It will cost less to maintain a single centralised office than a number of smaller offices. That’s the theory at least. But is it actually true? I’ve had my calculator out again and I’ve been working it out.

 

There are 50 workers each in the two offices in our area that are due to close – 100 altogether. It will take about half an hour each way to drive to and from the city. All of this has to be done in work time of course. We’re not counting the journeys each postal worker has to make to get to work and back. So that’s an hour of Royal Mail time spent getting us to and from the start of our rounds. We earn £8.86 an hour, so it will cost the company £886 a day, which is £5,316 a week, or £276,432 a year. Knock off days off and holidays, and the figure still comes in at around £250,000 a year. That’s a quarter of a million pounds spent on just getting the workforce to the start of the round every day.

How is that a “saving” exactly?

 

What kind of accountant adds a quarter of a million pounds to your wages bill and then describes it as a saving?

 

This is not to speak of the extra pollution of having hundreds of vans spluttering about during the rush hour or the cost in maintenance, petrol, tax and insurance, of running a fleet of vans. It’s not to speak of the traffic chaos in the city or parking problems around the new joint delivery office. It’s not to speak of the inconvenience for customers of having to travel eight miles to pick up their undelivered mail. According to the Royal Mail’s own figures this will be in the region of 100 a day in each of the two offices. I will leave it up to you to work out the figures on that.

 

All of this can only lead to one of two conclusions: either Royal Mail management is grossly incompetent, or it is running down the company on purpose, for some end that the rest of us have yet to be informed about.

 

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Model of a Modern Royal Mail http://solidaritymagazine.org/2011/01/model-of-a-modern-royal-mail/ http://solidaritymagazine.org/2011/01/model-of-a-modern-royal-mail/#comments Thu, 20 Jan 2011 12:00:33 +0000 http://solidaritymagazine.org/?p=1236 Continue reading ]]> Roy Mayall 19 January 2011

Last week all the new walk-sequencing machines in our area broke down. This meant that only about a third of the letters arrived at our delivery office on Wednesday. So on Thursday we had two days’ post to deliver, and everyone’s mail was late.

Walk-sequencing machines sort the letters into the order that they are going to be delivered in. The old walk-sorting machines only organised the post into rounds: postal workers had to do the final sorting. Under the old system, all the post was in the delivery office by 7.15 and we were usually out on our rounds by 9.00. Under the new system, the last lorry arrives at 9.15 and sometimes we don’t get out until after 11.00. It’s quite normal for a postal worker to finish work at 3.30 these days, and for posties doing rural rounds still to be delivering letters as late as four in the afternoon. The machines also have a tendency to break down, as we’ve just discovered, so on some days no post is delivered at all. But they are central to the Royal Mail’s ‘modernisation’ programme.

There was a talk show about the Royal Mail on BBC Three Counties Radio the other day. People in Milton Keynes weren’t getting their post. Some people had been waiting for three weeks for it to arrive. ‘Obviously we have to modernise the business and that is what we are doing,’ explained Steve Smart, a local collection and delivery manager. ‘At the end of the day if we don’t modernise Royal Mail we’ll have problems down the line.’ In a nine-minute interview he used the word ‘modernise’ or ‘modernisation’ 15 times.

The Royal Mail have scrapped all the bikes in Milton Keynes and replaced them with vans. Vans are obviously much more modern than bikes. They are also more expensive. Not only do they cost several thousand pounds to buy, they cost several hundred pounds a year to tax and insure. As one postal worker said, ‘you could have bought a new bike for the cost of the insurance, which would have lasted ten years.’

Vans are also slower and less versatile than bikes. They are quicker along the road, but once on your round you have to get out and walk, pulling the post behind you on a trolley. It’s awkward. After a while it puts a strain on your back. And you can’t read the envelopes as you’re walking, which slows things down even more. Rounds that used to take three and a half hours to complete are now taking up to five. Whoever devised this method has obviously never delivered a letter in their life.

On a bike you can sometimes ride right to the front door and push the post through the letter box without getting off. You don’t get a stiff back. You never have trouble parking. Bikes cost nothing to run, give out no fumes, and will still be in use when all the vans are scrapped because petrol has become too expensive.

‘Modernising’ the Royal Mail means replacing a tried and tested method that’s been good for more than a hundred years with one that is more tiring, more polluting, slower and more expensive. Expect more chaos and delayed post as the Royal Mail’s modernisation programme is rolled out across the country.

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The not so jolly postman http://solidaritymagazine.org/2010/12/the-not-so-jolly-postman/ http://solidaritymagazine.org/2010/12/the-not-so-jolly-postman/#comments Sat, 18 Dec 2010 15:15:24 +0000 http://solidaritymagazine.org/?p=1128 Continue reading ]]> People used to say being a postman was the best job in the world. You’re up and out, in the fresh air, meeting people; it’s a healthy job, you’re active. It gave you a good feeling; everyone used to look forward to getting their post, especially at Christmas. I’ve been a postman for more than 10 years and I do, even now, genuinely love my job. And Christmas is the best – and worst – of times for a postal worker like me.


Postal worker Roy Mayall loves his job – the fresh air, the early starts, even the Christmas rush. But this year it’s not quite so much fun. The service is being ‘modernised’, resulting in backlogs and delays. So will your cards get through?

It’s been a tough few weeks. I tend to forget from year to year just how demanding Christmas is. It’s like an avalanche of mail bearing down upon you; a huge mountain of letters giving way and falling on your head.

Let me give you some comparisons. Normally we would expect to carry mail to around 85% of households; at Christmas it is nearly 100%. Normally we would expect to deliver between one and three items per household; at Christmas it could be 30 or 40. A round usually takes three and a half hours; at Christmas it could be six. Ordinarily we take out 30 parcels. At Christmas it could be 150. That’s when I start to panic, as I’m dragging the third or fourth sack of parcels to my frame for sorting; I break into a cold sweat, wondering where it is all supposed to go.

But, cold sweats apart, we manage. We sort the mail into its proper sequence. We bundle it up ready to go out. We get the right parcels with the right letters so that they are delivered to the right addresses (generally speaking). We load up our bikes, with a tottering mound of mail in front, parcels in the panniers, and yet more packages in a pouch over our shoulders and balanced on the rack.

After that, it’s just a question of delivering it all. That’s the good bit. That’s why kids love us. We’re like Father Christmas, dressed in our red-and-blue waterproofs, with a bright red sack on our shoulders, riding a red bike, bringing presents to your door. Every year is exhausting, but we get through it. It’s a fantastic effort, and there’s a real sense of satisfaction in completing it. Until this year, that is.

This year, the higher echelons of Royal Mail management have decided to implement some changes. So, for example, they are getting rid of our bikes, and we’re getting vans instead. To do this, they are restructuring offices, restructuring rounds, reordering the frames, and reassigning roles: offices are being turned upside down and the workforce is demoralised.

Some of you will be aware that this is happening, some won’t. It depends on where you live. The changes are being rolled out in stages. Some parts of the country have already started to implement them, others will have to wait until next year. So if you live in Dundee, for instance, or Warwick, Formby or Herne Bay, or in any one of 30 to 40 affected towns around the country, then you will already realise something is afoot. You’ll know because your mail will fail to arrive for five days in succession, but will come in one large lump at the end of the week. You will know because you’ll have missed your hospital appointment, which arrived too late in the post, or because your copy of the Radio Times landed on your mat after your programmes had finished.

You may also know because your local paper is reporting it. Here are some samples of headlines around the country: “Formby residents fear postal backlog will ruin Christmas” (Sefton & West Lancashire). “Royal Mail’s battle to clear backlog of post” (Dundee). “Warwick post delivery ‘in a gigantic mess‘” (Warwickshire).

In each of these stories, the journalist gets the same response from Royal Mail. This is from the Stratford-upon-Avon Herald: “As part of Royal Mail’s £2bn investment in modernising its operations, changes are being made at delivery offices across the country to make them more efficient. When any such major change is implemented, some disruption is possible until the changes bed in.”

You will notice the use of that word “modernising”. So we are throwing away our bikes and demolishing the whole of the Royal Mail network – every frame and every process, through every office in every town – in order to accommodate the new “modern” working methods.

Why we are getting rid of the bikes? In 2009 they said it was for efficiency reasons. Earlier this year they said it was for safety reasons. But us posties have known all along the real reason. It’s so we can carry more weight, take out more packets, and do more work in the same number of hours.

The new delivery method is called “park and loop”. Two posties go out together in a van. In the back of the van they carry two golf trolleys, maybe 20 full pouches of mail, all the Special Delivery and Recorded Delivery letters, and all the tracked items. They park up and head off in two different directions, dragging their golf trolleys behind them. They deliver all the mail in a big loop, circling back to the van. Then they drive off to another spot and start the process again. Which would be all very well if it actually worked. But it doesn’t.

The procedure is overseen by a computer programme called Pegasus Geo-Route. It is the Royal Mail equivalent of Google Earth. Pegasus Geo-Route tells you exactly how much time each of the loops is supposed to take: how long, on average, each postie is supposed to spend at each door, how many packets he is supposed to be carrying, how long it is supposed to take to get from one door to the next, and what speed he is supposed to be walking.

The thing about computer programmes is that they are only as good as the information that is fed into them. And the problem with the information being fed into Pegasus Geo-Route is that it grossly underestimates the time it actually takes to do things. So, for example, for something called an “attendance delivery” – when we have to knock on the door to get a signature, or to hand over a parcel – we are allowed one minute. Think about it. That’s one minute for the person to hear the doorbell, come to the door, sign the chitty and receive the parcel, and for us to note the time, put the chitty away again, go back to the trolley, and start on to the next house. What if it’s an old lady who is at the top of the house? What if she’s hard of hearing and it takes two knocks? The Royal Mail’s own rules say we are supposed to wait for three minutes for the occupant to get to the door. And then, having waited, if the occupant is out, we have to write a “Sorry You Were Out” card and drop that through the door before we can continue on our way. How long does all that take? A lot more than one minute.

This underestimation is going on throughout the revision process. So it’s estimated we will have to stop and knock on the door 23 times a day, when it’s more like 50; that it will take six minutes for us to load door-to-door leaflets into the frame, when it takes more like 15; that it will take an hour to “prep” the frame ready to go out on the round, when it takes more like two. The amount of traffic passing through the offices has also been spectacularly underestimated. One office I know is supposed to have around 26,000 items passing through it a day, when the real figure is more like 42,000.

What this means is that there is a huge backlog of mail building up in all the offices where the new processes have been introduced. In one there is so much undelivered mail that for two days there wasn’t enough room to bring any more mail in. The post was literally spilling out of the door. They had to ring up the main sorting office to ask them to halt deliveries, and every office in the region had to send one postal worker over to help clear the backlog – this despite the fact that everyone is overstretched due to the Christmas rush.

This is only the first of a series of increasingly bizarre decisions the Royal Mail has taken this year. It has also introduced expensive, state-of-the-art letter sequencing machines that actually slow down the process of sorting the mail, resulting in later deliveries to your door. Local delivery offices are being closed at a time when online shopping is on the increase, thus increasing the number of “Sorry You Were Out” cards, and the number of times you have to drive to your nearest office to pick up your package. In future, don’t be surprised if it’s not from some out-of-town mail hub just off the motorway, servicing several different towns at the same time.

Then, on the back of all this restructuring, the company has decided to reduce staff levels, on the basis that the new delivery methods are so much more efficient. So in one office I know of, they have lost four full-time staff, and in another they have lost eight. In the latter case, the management was forced to re-employ staff to help clear the growing backlog. It has since agreed that at least five more workers are needed: but it is five workers on a reduced contract, which might go part of the way to explaining the motives behind all this.

The earlier contracts were highly favourable, with a good pension plan and good employment rights. The new contracts are casual, meaning that workers have virtually no rights.

Even if you think that all of the above changes are entirely necessary, who on earth thought it would be a good idea to bring them in just before Christmas, when the sheer weight of mail is in danger of overwhelming the system? And on top of all of this, we are about to be privatised. We are about to be sold off to a private company that may well want to alter all our practices all over again.

Today is the last posting day before Christmas for second-class mail; the last posting day for first-class mail is Tuesday. But don’t bank on all your Christmas post getting through. I’m certainly not.

Roy Mayall is a pseudonym. His book Dear Granny Smith: A Letter from Your Postman is published by Short Books (£4.99).

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    The Unsorting Office http://solidaritymagazine.org/2010/10/the-unsorting-office/ http://solidaritymagazine.org/2010/10/the-unsorting-office/#comments Sun, 17 Oct 2010 12:00:40 +0000 http://solidaritymagazine.org/?p=915 Continue reading ]]> Roy Mayall 13 October 2010

    It’s been a bad few weeks at our delivery office. First of all Vince Cable announced that the Royal Mail was going to be privatised. Then, at one of our weekly ‘Work Time Listening and Learning’ meetings, the line manager announced that our delivery office is going to close. We are going to have to move to the main sorting office in the next town, seven or eight miles away. He couldn’t say when this was going to happen. All he could say was that ‘plans are underway’.


    We didn’t have time to ask him any questions about it, however, as two ‘lead planners’ from the region had come to tell us about the review of working methods they are undertaking in our office.

    First up, our bikes are going to be scrapped and replaced by lightweight trolleys and shared vans: two posties to a van, working an enlarged round between them.

    Working hours are changing too. Nine Byzantine schemes are being suggested for us to choose from, varying from nine-day fortnights – four people to work three routes, working eight hours, forty minutes a day – to a four-day week in a three-week rotation, with a nine-hour, forty-five minute day, using three people to cover two deliveries. Er…?

    They will also measure the speed at which we slot the mail into our frames before setting out on our rounds, giving us targets to make us do it faster.

    The planners were quick to point out that the main purpose of the review was to take man-hours out of the office, and to make rounds bigger. In other words, the new, shared rounds will be larger than two old rounds, meaning more work for posties, and less time to do it in.

    One of my colleagues said: ‘Surely if the office is going to move, then journey times will have to be added in and we’re going to have to go through this all over again?’

    Yes, the planner said. Once we move there will be another revision.

    What about privatisation?’ I said. ‘We are going to be privatised soon and TNT are going to move in and will want to do things their way.’

    I can’t comment on privatisation,’ the planner said.

    Part of the revision process will involve one-to-one meetings between the planners and postal workers. The new rounds are being drawn up using a piece of computer software called Pegasus/Geo-route, which depicts a two-dimensional world. The aim of the meetings is to factor in the terrain and other hazards. Every hill, every footpath, every short cut, every gate, every stairwell, every block of flats, every back door entrance is to be recorded. This is valuable information. It is being collected now, at public expense, but it will be inherited by whichever private company takes over. I wonder if they will be charged for that?

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    Royal Mail's plan for junk deliveries http://solidaritymagazine.org/2010/04/royal-mails-plan-for-junk-deliveries/ http://solidaritymagazine.org/2010/04/royal-mails-plan-for-junk-deliveries/#comments Fri, 30 Apr 2010 13:51:22 +0000 http://solidaritymagazine.wordpress.com/?p=597 Continue reading ]]> Postal workers will soon be under pressure to deliver junk mail to every household

    Roy Mayall

    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.

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    Union deal lets postal workers down http://solidaritymagazine.org/2010/04/union-deal-lets-postal-workers-down/ http://solidaritymagazine.org/2010/04/union-deal-lets-postal-workers-down/#comments Tue, 13 Apr 2010 21:17:08 +0000 http://solidaritymagazine.wordpress.com/?p=579 Continue reading ]]> If the agreement between Royal Mail and the CWU is accepted it will be another weapon in the armoury of bad-natured managers

    Roy Mayall

    Up to 35,000 delivery workers will be worse off if the deal between Royal Mail and the CWU goes through.

    We’ve just received our ballot papers for the agreement which was negotiated between the Royal Mail and the CWU following last year’s strikes. Obviously this isn’t the ballot that is on most people’s minds at the moment, but the outcome of it could have serious implications for your postal delivery service, regardless of which party comes to power in the general election.

    The negotiations took over four months, and it has taken another month or more to prepare the ballot.

    The overwhelming mood among delivery staff – at least if you read the forums – seems to be one of rejection. Up to 35,000 delivery workers will be worse off, having to take an immediate pay-cut in the abolition of door-to-door payments, and their replacement by a flat-rate supplement.

    Part-time workers will be the worst affected by the changes, as the supplement is pro-rata. A Royal Mail employee working a four-hour shift will only get half the money of a full-time employee for doing exactly the same amount of work.

    The agreement commits the Royal Mail to a 75-25% split between full-time and part-time jobs. This was clearly one of the strategic aims of the union in the negotiations. In some postal services in Europe the proportion is reversed, as full-time staff lose their jobs in favour of their part-time rivals.

    But the fact is, part-time staff are being discriminated against here. Many part-timers work virtually full-time hours when overtime is taken into account, and it is only the terms of the contract that are different.

    There is already a two-tier workforce in the Royal Mail. What this agreement does is to reinforce the gap by making the pay-structure different, too. The union appears to have made a deliberate calculation: to risk the loyalty of part-time staff in the interests of its full-time members.

    Again, if you are to believe the forums, there is likely to be a mass exodus from the union if the result of the ballot is positive.

    One of the aspects of the agreement that will most affect the public is the new work plan, which it lays out in some detail. This includes a six-day week and later start times. Something very strange is going on here. The ostensible purpose of the agreement is something loosely described as “modernisation”: that is, the introduction of new technology to speed up processing. And yet, when it comes down to it, we are all going to be starting work an hour later. In order to speed up processing we have to put back delivery times, inconveniencing the public and threatening many small businesses who are reliant on the post. Why would that be, do you think?

    There is no explanation for this in the text, but we can make an educated guess. The reason that start times have to be put back is in order to allow the private mail companies time to process their mail and then get it to us. It’s a strange kind of business indeed that holds up its own workers and inconveniences its own customers in the interests of its rivals, but that is what appears to be happening here.

    Another aspect of the agreement worrying postal workers is the question of productivity. As it says: “We want to bring everybody’s actual performance up to the level of the top 10% performance …”

    Postal delivery is intensely physical work. It involves working at top speed for up to four-and-a-half hours at a stretch for five days a week. Imagine four-and-a-half-hour workout sessions and you have some idea of what this means. The younger you are the better. I’m 57 years old, and very fit, but there’s no way on earth I could work as fast as the younger members of staff in my office.

    What makes that “top 10% performance” doubly worrying is the fact that it is a moving target. The top 10% is always the top 10% no matter how fast everyone else is working. It gets relatively faster as the workrate as a whole goes up, meaning no matter how hard you work you can never catch up.

    There is already a culture of bullying within the Royal Mail. This looks like one more weapon in the armoury of bad-natured managers who – bullied themselves – tend to take their frustrations out on their staff.

    Expect later delivery times, unhappy posties and an all-round poorer service if this agreement goes through.

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    More reflections on the agreement http://solidaritymagazine.org/2010/03/more-reflections-on-the-agreement/ http://solidaritymagazine.org/2010/03/more-reflections-on-the-agreement/#comments Wed, 24 Mar 2010 16:53:48 +0000 http://solidaritymagazine.wordpress.com/?p=537 Continue reading ]]> By Roy Mayall

    Money

    I don’t know about you, but I didn’t go on strike for money. I went on strike so the management would know that they couldn’t push us around, that we were willing to take action to defend our jobs and the quality of our service. It was the quality of service I was as concerned about as much as anything to do with money.

    I was talking to one of my mates at work yesterday. I asked him if he’d read the agreement?

    There’s no point,” he said. “I’m not in the union so I can’t vote on it anyway.”

    That seemed like a strange point of view to me.

    But it will affect your job for the next few years. Aren’t you interested to find out what it says?”

    No Roy. I’ve been in the job for thirteen years now, and what I’ve found is that the management always gets what it wants.”

    You see, that seems like a loser’s attitude to me. The management always gets what it wants. Even when they are wholly wrong, we just have to accept it. It is the way of the world. If we all thought like that then nothing would ever change and we might as well roll over and die right now for all the good that breathing would do.

    And then my friend said, in a voice resonant with resignation and defeat, “In the end there’s only eight hours in a day. They can’t make us work more than that.”

    This is true. But they can make us work harder in those eight hours. They can make us carry more weight. They can make us break our backs with the sheer volume of mail we are obliged to carry. They can make us work till four o’clock on a Saturday, heaving out shit-loads of junk mail to households that hate us for it. They can turn our lives upside down with all of their ludicrous innovations. They can have us leaping through hoops to satisfy arbitrary management requirements which serve no other purpose than to undermine our self-esteem.

    This is the thing I most dislike about this agreement. It opens the door to all of that. Longer spans. More junk mail. Later starts. Late Saturdays. A poorer service all round.

    And in the end, whose interest is all of this serving? Take those late starts. What’s that for exactly? It’s so they can run their Walk Sequencing Machines to automate the job. But – hang on – aren’t Walk Sequencing Machines meant to make the job more efficient? So how come they can’t run to time then? Why do we have to start late in order to serve them? Why can’t they start early in order to serve us?

    There’s the question. And the answer is – I very strongly suspect – that we are starting later in order to serve the interests of the private mail companies.

    That’s the point that keeps coming back to me again and again and again. We are constantly being bombarded with this propaganda about the diminishing market, when we all know, by the sheer weight we are lugging about every day, that the market is growing. There’s plenty of cash flowing about in the postal trade. What they mean is a diminishing share of the market, because the private mail companies are eating into our profit base, but without adding anything of value. We still do most of the work.

    So what really puzzles me is why the union isn’t doing something about this?

    There would be no need to talk about growing the market by loading our poor unsuspecting customers with yet more unwanted junk, if only the Royal Mail was being properly paid for what it does. There would be no need for later start times if we weren’t having to wait for the private mail companies to get the mail to us first, adding one more unnecessary link to the chain.

    If the union told us to stop delivering DSA mail, we could kill it off instantly.

    There would be no need for Dave and Billy to go grandstanding around the country trying to sell an unpopular deal to a sceptical membership.

    The union’s official policy is for an end to DSA mail and a return to the Royal Mail monopoly. But where are the campaign leaflets to go with this policy? Where’s the strategy? Is there a plan of action? Are the membership being informed? Do we know what steps we are going to take in order to overturn this ludicrous trade in fleecing the public? And, while Dave and Billy are presenting their all-singing, all-dancing never-ending musical road-show around the country, why aren’t they mentioning the one issue that could actually make a difference to all of us?

    Why aren’t they telling us what they propose to do about DSA?

    Value

    As I say: I didn’t go on strike for money. Money isn’t the most important issue here. What concerns me is what the job will be like in two, three, five years time, and what sort of an industry we bequeath to our kids.

    Automation doesn’t worry me either. Bring it on, I say. Let’s have all that walk-sequenced mail flowing in so we can throw it off in half the time. Except that no one is expecting us to be able to do that. The estimate is that walk-sequencing will save about seven minutes a round. And meanwhile, in the real growth market, the relentless rise of on-line shopping, walk-sequencing machines are all but useless. The best way of sorting oddly shaped and uneven packets is still by hand. And until they’ve invented robots that can read the mail and rails that lead to everyone’s front door, they will always need people to deliver the mail on foot. The postal market is a growing market – or at least a steady market – and there will always be space for people within it.

    It’s a question of how we fill that space: as donkeys, or as thinking human beings.

    So what do you think is the real reason behind the “modernising” agenda. I put the word in inverted commas because I remain sceptical about the current use of the word.

    There’s an old-fashioned economic theory known as The Labour Theory of Value. It isn’t taught much any more. Marxists will know of it, but it isn’t only a Marxist concept. John Stuart Mill used it. Malthus used it. It dates back to the thirteenth century, perhaps even further. It was the traditional measure by which value was estimated.

    It goes like this. Where does value come from? It comes from labour. What’s the difference between the hide of a cow and a pair of shoes? What’s the difference, come to that, between a pile of sand and a silicone chip? The hide is worth less than the shoes. The sand is worth less than the chip. And what makes the difference? It is the value of the labour that has gone into the making of the product, both the direct labour, and the accumulated labour in terms of education and training, which is why skilled work is worth more than unskilled work. More labour has gone into it.

    And traditionally, classical economics drew a line between earned income, and unearned income. Earned income came from adding your labour to a product to create value. That is the real economy. Unearned income is things like rents, interest, stocks and shares, land value and real estate.

    Unearned income is money that can be earned while twiddling your thumbs or goosing the maid. You don’t need to work to get it.

    Traditional economics therefore proposed taxing unearned income in order to benefit society as a whole. It is what Adam Smith meant when he talked about the free market. The free market did not become free until the burden of unearned income had been lifted from the economy by taxation: the exact opposite of current free market thinking. It was what the Labour Party was created to do. That was what was meant by the redistribution of wealth: redistribution from those who lived off unearned income to those who created the wealth by their labour.

    You can see why it’s not taught any more can’t you? Because it questions the very basis of the world we inhabit, where unearned income lords it over earned income, and we have all become serfs to the profit motive.

    This is the real reason behind the euphemistic term “modernisation”. Modernisation means privatisation. What they actually mean is the right of the agencies of unearned income who now rule the world to extract private profit from every form of human endeavour: and that includes the postal market.

    The postal market is not being privatised in the interests of efficiency, but in the interests of the corporations that already control most of our lives.

    Work

    This, of course, is the world we live in, and I guess the union think that they are just being realistic by making compromises with it in order to survive. But here are some of the things I don’t understand. So, for instance, we are now being told that the Royal Mail were going to abolish the piece rate for door-to-door anyway, so we should consider the door-to-door supplement as a bonus.

    Pardon?

    Can you imagine what would have happened if Royal Mail had unilaterally got rid of door-to-door payments and attempted to force them into our workload without union consent? We’d have simply refused. They would have had a rebellion on their hands. They could never have got away with it.

    In other words, what the union have done here is to offer the management a gift of the door-to-door payments. They’ve handed it to them on a plate.

    But I wouldn’t even mind taking a pay cut if I thought this agreement was in the best interests of the work force. The trouble is there is so much in the agreement which is not.

    The six-day work plan, the revision of hours, the later start times, the longer Saturdays, all of this adds up to a sell out. It’s not like we’ve given one thing in order to get something better back. It all stinks.

    Take the issue of productivity, for example.

    As it says in the agreement:

    We want to bring everybody’s actual performance up to the level of the top 10% performance…”

    I think this is what concerns me the most. I know I couldn’t possibly go any faster. I’m a middle-aged man and the job already knackers me out. I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this. I know how fast the top 10% can go. I’ve worked with them, and it’s just not possible for me to go that fast.

    My friend the Minister of Cucumber on Royal Mail Chat made an interesting observation about this. Why were we allowed job and knock for a period? It’s obvious now: it upped the work-rate. People started working faster so they could get home earlier. But now that work-rate, which we used to do voluntarily for ourselves, is expected of us as part of the job.

    They upped the speed of Pegasus to match it, and are upping the length of our walks to reflect the greater amounts of work we are expected to do.

    The agreement continues this process. Longer walks, more junk mail, longer delivery spans. It’s all a way of increasing productivity so they can siphon the profit off to the private sector.

    Meanwhile the agreement assigns the role of management enforcer and collective cheerleader to the CWU.

    Listen to these passages if you don’t believe me:

    Both Royal Mail and the CWU recognise that successful change needs full and meaningful involvement of all key parties. It is therefore critical that both local management and the CWU are positively and actively involved in the revisions process.”

    That means they’ll decide for us what the work plan will be.

    After that there will be “joint training on the relevant parts of this agreement” – that means propaganda – “CWU reps being able to play an active role in Work Time Listening and Learning sessions” – that means they will be expected to pass the propaganda on to us.

    God help us! WTLL is dull enough as it is, without having to listen to yet more platitudinous commentary by people who have been brainwashed into management ways of thinking.

    It’s all very well for the union and the management to want to improve industrial relations so we can get on with the job of delivering the mail, but this agreement just looks like the CWU are getting into bed with management.

    Let’s hope they will be very happy together.

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    Deconstructing the agreement Part 2 http://solidaritymagazine.org/2010/03/deconstructing-the-agreement-part-2/ http://solidaritymagazine.org/2010/03/deconstructing-the-agreement-part-2/#comments Tue, 16 Mar 2010 21:12:16 +0000 http://solidaritymagazine.wordpress.com/?p=525 Continue reading ]]> By Roy Mayall

    Interpretation

    We’ve been reading through the text of the agreement to see what it reveals. This technique of close reading of a text is sometimes called “deconstruction” and is usually reserved for literary analysis.

    The problem is, as we’ve already found, that the actual words of the agreement are open to interpretation. The people who put this piece of writing together may think they know what it means, but individual managers in individual offices may have entirely different thoughts altogether. This, then, leaves the agreement open to abuse.

    It’s also clear that there are a number of problem areas and un-thought-out aspects to the agreement which make it a very unsatisfactory document all round.

    The idea that we have to vote on this agreement as it stands, that there is no alternative and no way of adjusting it, shows how arrogant the negotiators have been. Didn’t it occur to them that we might want to have our say? After all, it is our union. It is our industry. These are our jobs on the line. It’s our pay and conditions we’re talking about here. These are our workloads. Some of us will be expected to be out on the streets delivering door-to-door as late as 4pm on a Saturday afternoon for what amounts to a cut in pay. Didn’t the union think there might be a reaction to this?

    The Work-Plan

    Central to the agreement is the new work-plan which will be rolled out in the coming months. This involves a six day week and later start times. Our whole working day is going to be moved back an hour. This will be a problem for a lot of people. Most of us took this job because of the hours. Many of us have commitments. Maybe our spouses work too and we pick the kids up from school. That’s a common arrangement. What has the new agreement done to accommodate that?

    Then there are our customers, particularly our small business customers, who have been used to getting their mail early. It’s not only a matter of inconvenience. Hundreds of companies across the country operate their own mail-rooms and employ staff to sort their mail internally. Most have no clue that their mail is about to be disrupted and their office routines thrown out of the window. Similarly the thousands of other companies who deal with incoming mail early in the day in order to deal with sales or enquiries and try to give a “same day” service are shortly in for a nasty surprise.

    The question is, what is driving these changes? Are they really in the best interests of our customers and our industry, or might this not have something to do with the private mail companies who need extra time to get their work done and delivered to us? Will the private companies now be holding us back in terms of hours in the same way that they currently hold us back in terms of profitability?

    I’d like to see the statistics on this, wouldn’t you? I’d like to see the calculations these decisions are based upon, instead of which it’s just a case of take it or leave it, with the union now being privy to the information, but the rest of us being left in the dark.

    I think that it is this that I find most disturbing about the agreement. It’s an accommodation between the union and Royal Mail management which will be subject to rules of commercial confidentiality. That means the union will have to make decisions based upon information which they are unable to pass on to the membership. This changes our relationship to the union altogether. It forces them closer to management and further away from us. There’s already a fundamental split between paid union officials and the membership they serve, since most of them have forgotten what the job is actually like. This new “accommodation” will make that split even more pronounced.

    “World Class Mail”

    Going through the agreement you find a lot of jargon. It’s full of buzz-words and phrases which obviously have some other meaning than the ones we usually use in common English. This is standard practice when you have something to hide. It is why legal terminology is so dense and complex. It also has the advantage that normal people don’t have the knowledge and the equipment to handle it, so have to employ “experts” to help with their understanding. The experts, of course, are the ones who came up with all the entangled terminology in the first place, thus ensuring that they have a job for life disentangling it and helping to make sense of it for the rest of us.

    Take this paragraph as an example:

    Royal Mail and the CWU commit themselves to develop and deploy world-class standards of performance and methods using a range of approaches. One such approach…. is the World Class Mail (WCM) initiative. In order to progress WCM Royal Mail are committed to help the CWU at all levels to gain a better understanding of this initiative.”

    This is disturbing on a number of levels. The phrase “World Class Mail” is a technical term. You can tell a technical term when it can be reduced to a string of letters. That’s always an indicator of the fact that the words being used might turn out to mean something other than what you expected them to mean. It appears to refer to the adoption of delivery methods and techniques which are used in other countries. That means that the Royal Mail will be scouring the world for methods of increasing our work load and therefore our profitability in order to offer cheaper products for the private companies. At least that’s what it implies.

    The trouble is it’s not clear what it means. What is clear is that the Royal Mail are already committed to this Whatever-It-Turns-Out-To-Be (WITOTB) and that the CWU’s role is simply to gain a better understanding of it in order to help implement what it has already been decided is going to happen anyway, whether you like it or not.

    So, you think, how can the CWU have signed up to something it currently has no understanding of?

    The agreement then goes on: “Royal Mail will ensure that WCM becomes a core agenda item in the new strategic involvement forums.”

    That means that when the two sides meet the WCM (WITOTB) will be one of the main items on the agenda.

    It sounds like these meetings will be very one-sided. CWU reps will sit there and be lectured on the WCM (WITOTB) agenda. Then they will come back to the office to help management implement it. And we still don’t even know what it is as yet!

    Productivity

    Later we find ourselves talking about productivity and we come to this very disturbing sentence:

    We want to bring everybody’s actual performance up to the level of the top 10% performance…”

    There are caveats attached to this, about good employment policy and safe working practices, but, it seems to me this is a recipe for pure bullying. What if one worker can’t get into that top 10%? Some of us work at different speeds. Older guys just take longer to do the job, that’s all there is to it, and not everyone is consistently fast and accurate at the same time. With a bullying manager and a weak, or non-existent rep, I can see this turning some people’s lives into a living hell.

    And we all know, despite the platitudes and high-minded phrases, that bullying is endemic in management culture. The directors bully the DSMs who bully the cluster-managers who bully the DOMs who bully the line-managers who bully us. Some people get it worse than others and changes in the job have meant that we’re all more isolated from each other than we used to be. Hidden in the quiet recesses of a frame a lot of threats can be made. I’m not sure if it takes a certain kind of a person to want to be a manager in the first place, or whether there are training programmes, but we all know that bullying goes on and that the procedures for dealing with it are crude and inadequate.

    The question of productivity is a form of bullying in itself. It is bullying made into policy. If you are not going fast enough, we will force you to go faster. Add this to the bullying tendencies of a large number of managers and I can see a recipe for a great deal of unhappiness in the Royal Mail: even more unhappiness than we have now.

    Health and Safety

    Another characteristic of the agreement is the use of generalised “mission-statements” which, you suspect, are nothing more than sound-bites to be rolled out in front of the press, should we ever need them. So “health and safety…. is of paramount importance to Royal Mail.” Well duh. Who isn’t committed to health and safety? They’re hardly going to come out and say they are committed to disease and danger, are they?

    It’s a question of what your policies are. Currently we all have to wear cycle helmets and there are yellow lines zigzagging all over the yard to indicate where you are supposed to walk – which everyone ignores – and smokers are made to stand behind the bicycle sheds (virtually) to get their nicotine fix. One of my colleagues was put through the disciplinary procedure for smoking too near to the entrance to the office.

    All of this is in the name of “health and safety”. But the Attendance Procedure is still in place, which still forces me to come into work when I’m not fit, and all of the platitudes and vagaries and generalised mission statements in this agreement are not going to compensate for the fact that we are going to be carrying more mail of worse quality till later in the day, and that this will affect our home lives and our leisure-time and will impact dramatically on our time-off, thus endangering our health.

    So the document promises to identify the causes of stress and to work to address them, while, at the same time it intends to understand, identify and tackle the causes of fatigue.

    Well I can tell you what the answer to both of these questions are. Stress. It’s caused by the job. Fatigue. It’s caused by the job. And this agreement is about to add more stress and more fatigue to the job.

    Door-to-door

    As we all know this is one of the most contentious areas in the document. Door-to-door is to be included in our workload, the cap to be lifted on the numbers, a door-to-door and early shift allowance supplement to be paid out to all staff, pro-rata for part-timers. I won’t go into all of the arguments here. We all know it is a pay cut for many of us, part-timers in particular. But here is the most significant element, that I haven’t heard anyone say as yet. Our customers hate door-to-door. They loath it with a passion. We’ve all heard them rattling on about it. They all want it stopped. So by voting for this agreement we are voting for something our customers hate.

    At the moment there is still a residue of respect for what we do as posties. It’s fading fast and with the casualisation of the workforce over the last few years and the increasing workload, which means we aren’t able to do our job properly, there is a growing element amongst the public who are starting to get very vociferous about us. By voting for something we know our customers don’t want – and that isn’t even in our interests – aren’t we just inviting the public to take their frustrations out upon us even more?

    Add to this the increasing damage to the environment as more forests are decimated to make more pointless reading matter that people will just throw in the bin, and the implication in the agreement that we will be delivering junk mail right up until Christmas, and the suggestion that we might be forced to take out Saturday-only junk mail (maybe even on the Saturday before Christmas) and it looks increasingly like a very, very bad deal indeed.

    But here is the bit that made me scream out with sheer exasperation when I read it:

    Managers, CWU reps and employees will all play a part in driving up the perception, awareness and importance of the door-to-door delivery.”

    No I won’t. I hate it. It is shit. It is corporate propaganda on a grand scale. It is part of the culture of glossy diversion and distraction which is endangering our very future on this planet. It is meaningless drivel. It clogs up the mail. It flops about in my frame. It sticks to my hands. It is of poor quality. It’s embarrassing. It serves no other purpose than as recycling. What does it get recycled into, I wonder? More junk mail.

    Currently, when I hand a bunch of junk to a customer and they say, “is that all there is?” I can say, “I’m sorry, it’s not my fault.”

    If we accept this deal we will know that it is our fault, that it was our decision which foisted this upon them, and we can only shrug in shame.

    Think about that when you cast your vote.

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    Deconstructing the Agreement – Part 1 http://solidaritymagazine.org/2010/03/deconstructing-the-agreement-part-1/ http://solidaritymagazine.org/2010/03/deconstructing-the-agreement-part-1/#comments Sun, 14 Mar 2010 21:56:01 +0000 http://solidaritymagazine.wordpress.com/?p=522 Continue reading ]]> By Roy Mayall

    Purpose and Scope

    Reading through the new agreement I’m struck by how far short of expectations it actually falls. On this basis I’ve decided to “deconstruct” the text to see if we can’t find out what is actually going on within it.

    Remember, this document was written by a bunch of people with various agendas, sitting in various rooms in various parts of the country, arguing about individual words in the text in order to secure what they consider to be the best deals for their clients. It’s a question of who you think the clients may be. In the case of the union, it should be the membership, but is probably more likely the organisation of the union itself. In the case of the Royal Mail, it should be its shareholder, the government – that is us, the taxpayer – but is more likely to be the vested interests of its top management and the immediate prejudices of those members of the government who are overseeing the process: in this case, Peter Mandelson.

    It’s not exactly a coherent document, and any close reading shows that large parts of it are made deliberately obscure in order to hide its meaning. That, in itself, tells you something.

    The aims of the agreement are laid out in the introduction, called Purpose and Scope. In the first paragraph it states: “our traditional business is being overtaken by modern methods of communication… where competition, pension costs and volume decline are massive challenges for the company.”

    You see, we’re already into a debate, and we haven’t even started reading the main body of the agreement yet. Who says that our traditional business is being overtaken? Where is the independent assessment of this? We hear statements of this kind all the time, and it appears to fit into some kind of narrative the various parties are setting up in the public mind, but it’s not necessarily true. I mean, I’m writing this on Mother’s Day. Have I sent my Mum a Mother’s Day text or a Mother’s Day email today? Of course not. I’ve sent a Mother’s Day card and a bunch of flowers, like everyone else. I’ve been delivering other people’s Mums their Mother’s Day cards all week. In a few weeks time it will be Easter and there will be Easter cards to deliver; so while we might agree there have been some alterations to our traditional business, most of it is still here, and will always be here, regardless of modern methods of communication.

    As for the “competition”: every postie knows this is a wholesale deceit. There is no competition in the delivery market. There is only the Royal Mail, and all of these so-called competitors are merely parasites on the Royal Mail network, taking trade from us at a subsidised rate, while demanding that the Royal Mail delivers their letters for them.

    The same holds for “volume decline”, another ad-hoc phrase which appeals to the story-line we are being spun, but which is demonstrably not true. They must think we are idiots.

    We handle the mail and know more than anyone that most on-line business is passing through our hands these days, and that this has led to a dramatic increase in the volume of traffic, at least in terms of size and value.

    In other words, the very terms this document is basing its arguments on are at best a

    severe distortion of the truth, at worst, outright lies.

    Modernisation – Not A Shared Vision

    The first part of the document is called “Modernisation – A Shared Vision”.

    Again, we are at the site of some contention here, since I’m clear in my head that what the Royal Mail means by the word “modernisation” and what I mean are two entirely different things.

    What I might mean would be things like new machinery brought in to make my job easier, and to make the delivery of mail more efficient. What the Royal Mail mean, on the other hand, is more work for less pay. They are bringing in the new machinery in order to cut jobs, in order to load us up like donkeys, in order to increase profitability. This is the exact opposite of any generally accepted meaning of the word “modern”. It’s not “modernisation” we’re talking about here, but regression to a past era of exploitation and oppression, and to label it “modern” in any way is to test the English language to its limits.

    Another contentious word in the document is “customer”. This is used a lot. We have to “align the interests of our customers, the workforce and the company as a whole.” But it depends who you mean by “customer”. As posties, of course, we are aware of the customers on the street, in the houses, behind the letter boxes we deliver to. But there’s another level of customer too: the corporate customer, whose interests may be entirely different from the first kind of customer, in a large number of ways.

    Our day-to-day customers want their mail delivered as early as possible, as quickly as possible, at a fair rate across the country to reflect the needs of the entire community. The corporate customer, on the other hand, wants his own mail to be delivered as cheaply as possible, preferably cheaper than his rivals, and doesn’t care about the network as a whole or its impact on the general public.

    The corporate customer is driven by the demands of privatised profit, not by social responsibility or the needs of the ordinary customer to receive a decent service.

    It’s a question of who we serve.

    It’s the top-brass at the Royal Mail who deal with corporate customers on a daily basis, of course, and it’s interesting to note that the line between us – the management and the workforce – lies at exactly the same meridian as the line between the interests of the corporations and the interests of the every day customer.

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    Royal Mail deal is junk http://solidaritymagazine.org/2010/03/royal-mail-deal-is-junk/ http://solidaritymagazine.org/2010/03/royal-mail-deal-is-junk/#comments Tue, 09 Mar 2010 09:26:44 +0000 http://solidaritymagazine.wordpress.com/?p=501 Continue reading ]]>

    Royal Mail’s deal with the CWU is not just bad for postal workers – it will leave our postboxes stuffed with junk mail says Roy Mayall From Guardian Comment is free


    According to the official communiques, both sides in the postal workers’ dispute are delighted with the complex deal that has been ironed out over the past weeks. The CWU is calling it a 6.9% pay rise over three years; the management is hailing the agreement as opening the way to “transformation” of the business. But before they vote for it, Royal Mail staff should read the small print of the 80-page document. I had the opportunity to pore over a leaked draft version, and in my view, whatever is being said about it by senior officials, this deal does not deliver.

    Let me explain. There are two blocks of flats, with boxes in the hall, on my postal round. We deliver the mail to the boxes rather than to the flats: 12 boxes in each block. I usually drop the “door-to-door” off on a Monday, three items per household, 36 items to each block. This is the unaddressed mail, also known as “household” or “junk mail”. By the time I get back to the blocks on a Tuesday morning, both halls are swimming in the stuff. It’s all over the floor, pretty well all 72 items. People collect their mail in the evening, pick out the door-to-door and drop it on the floor. This is just one illustration of how much people dislike the stuff.

    Currently, the cap on the number of door-to-door items is three per household. But with the ratification of the new agreement between the Communications Workers Union (CWU) and the Royal Mail, that cap will be lifted. The agreement doesn’t specify how many there could be. Six items, eight items, maybe more. It could be limitless.

    Presently, we are paid per item, depending on the weight. We get a minimum of 1.67p per item, rising to 4.5p. This figure has stayed the same for the last 10 years. I have about 600 delivery points on my round, so at the minimum rate I currently take home about £30 for my door-to-door deliveries.

    The new agreement will incorporate the door-to-door into our normal workload, so we will no longer be paid per item. Instead, we are to get a weekly supplement. According to my leaked copy of the agreement – now confirmed – that figure will be £20.60. That is inclusive of the early shift allowance, which is also due to be phased out. In other words, it’s a pay cut.

    It’s even worse for part-timers. The figure is pro-rata. So a part-timer doing a four-hour duty will be getting £10.30, instead of the £30 he currently gets for taking out twice as much stuff, while at the same time receiving half the money of a full-timer doing exactly the same amount of work.

    This is just one of the many benefits on offer in the new agreement, which has been reached after over three months of intensive negotiations between the CWU and Royal Mail. Other examples include longer Saturdays, traditionally a light day for Royal Mail employees so they can go home early and enjoy the vestiges of the weekend with their families. Along with later start times, due to be rolled out over the entire week, this will mean that some postal workers will still be out on the streets on a Saturday as late as 4pm. So much for the “family-friendly” policies the agreement also trumpets, or its commitment to reduction in stress and fatigue.

    The clever thing about the agreement is that it disguises some of its worst aspects in a language that is so dense and impenetrable that it is difficult, at first, to know what it means. Take this, for instance:

    “Royal Mail and CWU agree that the length of delivery span can be an enabler in bringing about mutual benefits. From now on, within the process of duty revision negotiations, spans must be looked at in the context of an enabler rather than a fixed amount of time to be aimed at.”

    It takes a certain amount of literary interpretation to grasp that what that means is longer delivery spans. Again, the agreement doesn’t specify how long. Current delivery spans are meant to be 3.5 hours – which usually mean between four and 4.5 hours – a period of time of intense physical activity that the former Royal Marine and British military fitness expert Tony Goddard described as “unreasonable” on a Panorama programme last year.

    More time on duty and more weight to carry are just two of the results of this deal, and all for less pay. Also hidden away in its gothic density is a massive real-estate bonanza for the private sector, as delivery offices in prime city-centre locations become “rationalised”. It’s no wonder the negotiations have been kept strictly confidential.

    The “sweetener” for this will be a lump sum of £1,000 – actually, just the yearly “colleague-share” bonus moved forward a month or two; again, pro-rata for part-timers. So a full-timer can vote away his part-time colleague’s wages for what amounts to a lump sum he was already due to receive anyway.

    Reading the agreement, you get the feeling that its only real purpose has been to cement the union’s position in the workplace. In order to achieve this, the union has had to swallow its pride and assume the role of cheerleader for Royal Mail’s modernisation objectives.

    “Modernisation” in this case is a euphemism. It means siphoning off profits to the private sector.

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