Royal Mail Profits Soar to £726m While Postal Workers Get Sick

Royal Mail’s annual pre-tax profits for 2021 have quadrupled compared with the previous year. Profits stem largely from the pandemic-fuelled online shopping boom. Pre-tax profit jumped to £726m in the year to 28 March, compared with £180m a year earlier.

The massive rise in profits has led to speculation that Royal Mail will return to the FTSE 100 in next month’s quarterly market value-based reshuffle. The company will reward its shareholders with a bumper payout of £400million.

While the pandemic has been good for business, it has been an unmitigated disaster for thousands of postal workers who have got sick with a growing number of fatalities. Many worry that they have a significant chance of catching a deadly virus every time they turn for work and pass it on to loved ones.

Dire sickness levels have seen some customers not receiving mail all week. Large areas of the country are not receiving mail due to skyrocketing sickness levels amongst postal workers. In one week alone in the run-up to Christmas, 32 offices I know about were hit by covid related sickness. Sickness levels are double 2018 levels.

While Covid has caused havoc in many offices around the country, an even greater cause of disruption has been the massive restructuring programme undertaken by Royal Mail with the intimate collaboration of the CWU (Communication Worker Union), hours and job cuts have been made to increase productivity and profits.

The current CEO Simon Thompson bragged, “Last year stood out as one of remarkable change at Royal Mail. It has been challenging at times, but we have learnt that we can deliver results and change at lightning pace when we are united by a common purpose.”

In the latest issue of the Courier, Thompson makes the extraordinary claim that 1700 revisions have taken place in the last six months beating the previous figure of 132 in twelve months.

Many of the revisions have been a disaster. It seems not a day goes by without pictures and videos being leaked to the press showing full grey sacks of mail piled high on top of each other. One office in London some walks not been taken out for weeks.

According to one source, many revisions have been so rushed ‘the revisions are delaying the post. It is a ‘computer says no’ scenario. The technology says the routes can be done, but it does not take into account roadworks, traffic jams and blocks of flats with 30 addresses the posties have to get to.’

Communication Workers Union

The massive increase in productivity achieved by Royal Mail courtesy of the new agreement could have only taken place because of the role played by the CWU. In many offices around the UK, the union policed implementing the new revisions, while the others were a collaboration between the union and Royal Mail management. So much so that it has been hard to tell where the union ends and Royal Mail management begins. As George Orwell said, “The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.[1]

The CWU’s ‘Pathway to Change Agreement’ between Royal Mail and the Communication Workers Union (CWU) was hailed as a new way of working, and it would improve the working conditions of postal workers, and nothing of the sort has happened.

At Wakefield Delivery Office, West Yorkshire, the CWU suffered a rebuff when the structural revision agreed by managers was voted down by 94% of the workforce.

One aspect of the new agreement trumpeted by the CWU would be an end to bullying by managers, and this has patently not taken place. Revisions are now being imposed regardless of the workforce’s agreement, hours are cut, and absorption levels are going through the roof.[2] In many cases, postal workers are now doing more work than before the agreement.

Also, if the Covid crisis has proved one thing, it is the inability of the CWU(Communication Workers Union) to protect its workforce. The role of the CWU has been crucial during the latest pandemic. There is no way that Royal Mail would be operating, let alone making money, if it were not for the role of the CWU bureaucracy. The CWU offered postal workers up as the fifth emergency service, and postal workers are now increasingly needing to use the real emergency services.

While it is clear to many that the CWU has become an arm of corporate management, numerous pseudo-left[3] groups such as the SWP(Socialist Workers Party) contend that the CWU is still an organisation that will defend workers interests. The SWP held up the latest agreement between the union and Royal Mail as proof of this.

While there is growing opposition to Royal Mail and the CWU agreement from postal workers, the role of the SWP is to provide left and militant credentials to the union bureaucracy and disarm postal workers seeking to fight. The SWP hailed the new agreement pathway to Change Agreement’ saying it had stopped major attacks on workers’ jobs and conditions. This is a lie, and nothing of the sort has taken place. If anything, the attacks and the workload of postal workers have increased after the agreement.

[1] Animal Farm-George Orwell

[2] Absorption. An agreement between Royal Mail and the CWU that when a postal worker goes sick his delivery is done by other postal workers on top of their own delivery.

[3] The term “pseudo-left” denotes political tendencies that utilize democratic and populist phraseology to advance the interests of privileged sections of the upper middle class and defend capitalism against socialist revolution. There are many representatives of this politically reactionary tendency internationally, including the Democratic Socialists of America in the US, the Left Party in Germany, the Socialist Workers Party in Britain, Socialist Alternative in Australia, the New Anti-Capitalist Party in France, Podemos in Spain, Syriza in Greece, and the NSSP in Sri Lanka.

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