Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Royal Mail workers walk out in Cornwall

Workers at the mail centre in Truro in Cornwall walked out yesterday as they had not been paid. Every December, Royal Mail takes on workers on short-term contracts to help sort the unusually high volumes of mail. These are typically students or the long-term unemployed. In Truro, these workers were due to be paid at the end of last week. When they were not, they complained to management. As nothing has been done by yesterday (Monday), these casual workers decided to take unofficial action and walked out. The workers came back to work today, but told management they would walk out again tomorrow if they were not paid by the end of today.

This is an incredibly brave action from a group of casual workers who are not in the union and who could presumably be sacked. Then again, Royal Mail's recruitment procedure is so long winded and inefficient and the employment period so short that it is probably not in Royal Mail's interest to sack these workers. But it is a sign of the times we are living in that this group of workers had the confidence to go on strike. It is undoubtedly the case that these workers will have been inspired by the mass co-ordinated strikes that took place just a couple of weeks ago.

The action had a knock-on effect across Cornwall. Mail volumes in Penzance Delivery Office were well below were they would normally be at this time of year. Brian Eddy, the Communication Workers' Union (CWU) rep in Penzance said "we've had less than half the mail come in than we would usually get and that's because of the walkout in Truro".

Many postal workers in Penzance are concerned because they know they will be expected to deliver all the mail when it does come in, despite a shortage of staff. Management at the office confirmed that the budget for overtime is capped at 15 hours per week for the whole office. This is incredible in an office of 80 staff where on one day last week, some workers went over their time by as much as 3 hours in a single day. This is only set to get worse over the next two weeks.

It is also believed that the weather may have caused some mail to have been delayed. Much of the mail in the area is transported by aeroplane and it is thought some planes could not take off yesterday due to high winds.

It has also been confirmed that the office intends to continue to begin to plan a complete revision of the whole office which will include a complete replacement of the inward sorting frames, a re-organisation of the other sorting frames and every walking round and every driving round in the office will be torn up and re-written. This means every postal worker will be put on a delivery they have never done before, at once. And they intend to start this process at the very height of the busiest time of the year.

The issue of wages not being paid, or at least overtime not being paid in full, is one that affects every postal worker in Cornwall. Budgets are kept unrealistically low and managers are encouraged to not pay overtime, presumably in the hope that workers will either not notice or give up continually fighting for it. Postal workers are being bullied into working overtime and threatened with being given different, less good jobs if they refuse. In some cases workers are being bullied into doing overtime without being paid for it. Many workers have had enough and are talking about refusing to do overtime in the future. Most postal workers are proud of the job they do and do not want to fail to deliver all the mail. But many now feel that it is only by doing this that things will change and Royal Mail will employ the staff that is required. There is also a fear that senior management are preparing the ground for privatisation.

Postal workers should put pressure on their union reps to ballot the membership for strike action so that the CWU can join the next wave of mass co-ordinated strike action.






  2. European postal services do not run more smoothly than Royal Mail in Britain. In countries where postal services have been privatised, such as Germany and Holland, their equivalent of our Universal Service Obligation has been removed. This means there is no requirement to deliver to every address for the same price.

    They have 'zonal pricing' meaning a local letter may be as cheap as in Britain but a letter delivered further away will cost a lot more. Deliveries are usually five days a week or even less, unlike the six days in Britain. Some properties in rural areas, like Cornwall, do not get deliveries at all. 'Customers' have to collect their own mail from the nearest post office, which may be in the nearest city as many village and town post offices have closed down.

    The service in Britain may not be as good as it used to be, although it is still one of the best postal services in the world, but this is precisely because the government has been running the service down in order to present the argument that it should be privatised. Governments have done the same thing with the railways, telecoms, gas, electricity and so on. Each time we are told the serive will improve and each time the price increases but the service declines.

    Unfortunately, some people do not know their history and fall for these arguments each time. We need to educate people that privatising Royal Mail will mean an increase in the price and a decrease in the standard of the service to the public. It will also mean worse pay and conditions for the staff.


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