UK Post Office workers to stage national strike on May 3 against government pay restraint
This article by Tony Robson first appeared on the website wsws.org)
Post Office workers are to take national strike action May 3, in opposition to pay restraint imposed in line with the public sector policy dictated by the Johnson government.
The one-day stoppage will close 114 Crown Post Offices (those run directly by the Post Office) around the country and there will be no cash deliveries or collections from 11,500 sub-post offices. The action involves over 1,000 workers including counter staff as well as clerical, administration and call centre workers.
Royal Mail van, outside the Axminster post office (Image Credit: Wikipedia/Felix O)
Members of the Communication Workers Union (CWU) voted in March by a 97.3 percent majority for strike action in a ballot turnout of 70 percent. They have rejected a miserly 2.5 percent pay rise, offered as inflation climbs to a 30-year high of 6 percent CPI and 9 percent RPI.
The proposed two-year deal includes the pay freeze for last year and a lump sum of £250 in addition to the 2.5 percent from April this year.The determination of postal workers to fight back is in sharp contrast to the CWU. While the union is making token noises about the insulting pay offer, its efforts have been directed towards preventing a struggle from taking place.
Andy Furey, CWU Assistant General Secretary, told the Independent, “Despite this union’s best attempts to avoid strike action, the Post Office has displayed no interest whatsoever in meaningful negotiations.”
The union has confined itself to evasive references to a decent and fair agreement rather than specify a demand in line with inflation and which compensates for last year’s pay freeze.Now that a national strike is taking place the CWU is seeking to head off a confrontation with the government and drive a wedge between postal workers and millions of public sector workers suffering widespread austerity.
In a press release Furey states in reference to the Post Office, “They have told us that they’re freezing pay in keeping with official government and public-sector pay policy… But that’s an outrageous and dishonest excuse as the government’s austerity measures do not apply to the Post Office and it should be borne in mind that our members worked throughout the pandemic to provide essential services to the Great British public.”
He added that “the further irony here is that our members are always being told by senior management that they are a commercial operation and required to make a profit – yet the Post Office is a profitable concern – profits made by the hard work and dedication and skill of our members.”
Health workers, teachers, refuse workers and millions of other public sector workers have served on the frontline of the pandemic in which their safety was disregarded only to be rewarded with below inflation deals. The divisive approach of the CWU must be rejected in favour of a unified fightback.
Furey argues for accepting the entire framework of cost cutting and restructuring in the name of profitability on the false pretence that workers will get their “fair share” rather than suffer stepped-up exploitation.
The state-owned Post Office was separated off from Royal Mail when the latter was privatised back in 2012, splitting the cashier and retail operations from the letter and parcel delivery service. Since then, the number of Crown Post Offices has been reduced from 373 by more than two-thirds, to 114. Fully 99 percent of Post Offices are run by an independent postmaster, or what is described as a larger franchise partner, i.e., major retail chains.
The government subsidy has been reduced from £210 million in 2012-13 to £50 million annually, according to a Financial Times article last August, “in the drive to make the Post Office commercially viable.” Post Office CEO Nick Read explained that while the plan to remove all government subsidy, except for rural branches, by 2022 has been postponed, it was still intended to be achieved by 2025-6.
Read outlined plans to introduce self-service kiosks in 2,000 to 3,000 branches following the example of Post Canada. He admitted this would be at the expense of jobs. Read also referred to a move into the pick-up and drop-off market and for the Post Office to act as an outreach for banks that have deserted the high streets in favour of online services. The Post Office has entered into agreements with Amazon and DPD in relation to parcel deliveries, rather than their exclusive handling by Royal Mail.
The sole focus of the Post Office is to maximise profits as the government subsidy is stripped out. This can only further undermine the social obligations it is formally committed to in providing an accessible service to the elderly and most vulnerable, and will be done at the expense of workers’ jobs, pay and terms and conditions.
The Post Office has been at the centre of a massive frame-up of postal workers through the Horizon scandal. Hundreds of sub-postmasters and postmistresses were wrongfully convicted to cover up the defective Horizon IT auditing system designed and installed by Japanese company Fujitsu. This was introduced across the Post Office network in 1999 at the cost of £1 billion. The defects in the IT system showed false shortfalls in branch accounts and led to 736 unsafe convictions for offences ranging from false accounting, theft and fraud between 2000 and 2014, resulting in some prison sentences.
This was only brought to light due to the legal campaign by those wrongfully convicted and their supporters, spanning a 20-year period against bitter resistance from the Post Office. At the end of 2019 the Post Office finally agreed to pay damages to 555 claimants in civil cases. Last April the Court of Appeal quashed in a single ruling the convictions against 39 postmasters, part of a total of 72 such rulings to date, with many more expected to go to court. The bill of compensation for the victims of injustice meted out by the Post Office is estimated to be £1 billion.
One of the “Post Office 39” who had their convictions overturned is Seema Misra, a mother who was eight weeks pregnant with her second child when she was sentenced in 2010 for theft and false accounting, spending four months in prison, and ordered to pay £40,000 in compensation to the Post Office. Misra stated, “The Post Office was like a mafia. They have blood on their hands. We live in a developed country, how can we let these criminals roam around freely?”
There is widespread anger among postal workers over the fact that nobody in authority at the Post Office or Fujitsu has faced criminal prosecution for what has been described as the most “widespread miscarriage of justice” in recent UK history. Both parties have been shown to have withheld evidence regarding the faulty IT system. Paula Vennells, who oversaw the cover-up and persecution of sub-postmasters, is estimated to have raked in £5 million in pay and bonuses during her time as managing director and later chief executive of the Post Office before stepping down in 2019.
Post Office workers should reject the CWU’s argument that their fight should be conducted separately from those in the public sector facing austerity. The claim that a pay rise can be achieved by accepting the pro-business framework for the Post Office of further restructuring to hike up profits is bogus.
We encourage Post Office workers to read the Socialist Equality Party statement, “The working class must mobilise to bring down the Johnson government.” This outlines a strategy to mobilise the working class independently of the Labour Party and trade unions, which act as accomplices of the government and the employers as they demand increased exploitation and social looting in the interests of the corporate and financial elite.
The Great Post Office Scandal: The fight to expose a multimillion-pound IT disaster which put innocent people in jail by Nick Wallis, Bath Publishing, £25 544 pages
‘I WANT someone tried and jailed like I was, then I am settled,’
‘All who were convicted following a trial had grim punishments imposed upon them, including in some cases immediate sentences of imprisonment. Lives were ruined, families were torn apart, families were made homeless and destitute.’Reputations were destroyed, not least because the crimes of which the men and women were convicted – theft, fraud, and false accounting – all involved acting dishonestly. People who were an important, respected and integral part of the local community that they served were in some cases shunned.
Jason Beer QC
Behind every great fortune, there is a crime.
The Great Post Office Scandal, a door stopper of a book weighing in at 544 pages, catalogues at great length the numerous campaigns and legal cases that finally made the Post Office admit there was the elephant in the room. Post Office executives spared no cost in defending their position of prosecuting innocent people for crimes they did not commit.
Nick Wallis’s book highlights the shocking and criminal actions of the Post Office, who deliberately prosecuted Postmasters and Postmistresses despite knowing full well that their Horizon computer system was faulty. The Post Office bosses jailed, ruined the lives of and caused the suicides of many people in a manner that would not look out of place in a Nazi courtroom.
As Rory Cellan-Jones said in his review, “hundreds of sub-postmasters have had their reputations besmirched, their livelihood and liberty taken away and been sent into a spiral of depression that has in one instance ended in suicide, all because of a misplaced faith in the wisdom of computers”.
In 1999 The Post Office introduced a computer system called Horizon designed by Japans Fujitsu. It sought to revolutionise how Post Offices worked, but in reality, it produced a nightmare that made Dante’s Inferno look like a tea party.
During the four years after its introduction, the system miraculously began to find incredible levels of fraud. Instead of investigating whether the system was malfunctioning, the Post Office went to extraordinary lengths not only to cover up the fault but by 2014 had 736 people prosecuted. Both the Post Office and Fujitsu lied through their teeth to protect a malfunctioning computer system, even denying that Fujitsu employees had any power to intervene with branch transactions. The Post Office deliberately withheld evidence that prevented workers from having a fair trial.
The book is meticulously researched and well written. Wallis’s tenacity in pursuing the Post Office is a sight to behold. The book is an engrossing account of how the Post Office was forced to admit that it deliberately ignored and covered up Horizon’s malfunction. The Post Office’s hands are dripping with the blood of many workers.
Wallis did not break the story, but he was one of the few brave souls to break the wall of silence surrounding the scandal. Initially contacted by Davinder Misra, the husband of Seema, who was pregnant and in prison. She was accused of a shortfall in her account of £74,000, and was jailed for 15 months for theft.
Trade Union and Labour Bureaucracy
The reason the Post Office could jail people like Seema and many more is down to the fact that the Labour and Trade union bureaucracy never lifted a finger to stop it. At no stage did the unions involved either the Subpostmasters trade union or the CWU(CommunicationWorkers Union) call for strike action to prevent people from being jailed for crimes they did not commit. At no stage did the CWU expose the rotten Labour governments that presided over this miscarriage of justice on a grand scale.
This crime against the working class began under the Blair-Brown Labour governments. Gordon Brown became PM of the Labour government on 27th June 2007.
The union bureaucrats of the CWU fully shared the essential thrust of Blair and Brown’s right-wing policies. They shared Labour’s pro-business agenda, which included allowing innocent workers to be jailed and ruined by a Government-owned company without lifting a finger to help.
The Great Post Office Scandal is not an easy read, not just because it is too heavy. I hope it gets a wide readership. Wallis will donate money from the sales to fund the court cases still to be undertaken. Aside from that, it is an important book. It is conversational and contains many interesting vignettes, sometimes making it read like a crime novel.
The book works on many levels. It is attractive for the general reader, and academics will find much that interests them. From a legal standpoint, many lawyers will find this a goldmine.
While this scandal could be compared with other crimes against the working class like Enron, Theranos, Wirecard that has devastated so many lives in the pursuit of profit, it would be a mistake to believe that the Post Office is just a bad apple in an otherwise healthy basket. The decisive question that is not raised in the book, let alone answered, is what driving forces within the capitalist economy could have led to the situation where The Post Office could pursue and jail innocent people and act with impunity.
What was the role of the Labour and Trade Union bureaucracy in allowing the Post Office to act with such impunity? The answer to these questions will not be found in the book or in the current enquiry, which will be another will be a whitewash.
Why has no Post Office executive has been held personally accountable, let alone jailed? The Post Office Chair and CEO are still in their jobs, and the previous CEO, Paula Vennells, was given a CBE and a cushy job as Chair of Imperial College NHS Trust. CEO Paula Vennells was given a £5 million golden handshake and a CBE for “services to the Post Office and charity”. Workers must reject this phoney enquiry and must demand a worker’s inquiry.
 Harjinder Butoy was given the longest prison sentence at three years and four months, was wrongly convicted and jailed for stealing £208,000.
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.
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. 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 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.
 Animal Farm-George Orwell
 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.
 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. https://www.wsws.org/en/special/pages/pseudoleft.html
Postal Workers Face the Fight of Their Lives
The new measures just announced by the Tory government to combat the virus will do nothing to halt to the large numbers of postal workers catching the virus or being forced to isolate because their office has been infected.
Both Royal Mail and the Communications Workers Union(CWU) have offered up postal workers as the fifth emergency service without putting in place adequate safety measures to prevent the spread of the virus. Postal workers do not just deliver letters, but in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, they have joined with all logistics workers and are playing an ever more “essential” role, as they deliver food, water, medications, money, communications, and much more to millions of homes. This massively increased workload has led to a large number of postal workers catching Covid 19.
The last month has seen significant outbreaks of Covid 19 in offices all over the country:
Three postal workers contracted the virus at a delivery office in Blackpool.
Eight staff members have tested positive for coronavirus at the delivery office in Abbey Road, Malvern.
·Two Royal Mail workers at the Cheltenham delivery office have tested positive for Covid-19.
·15 staff at Royal Mail’s distribution centre in Swindon tested positive for COVID-19.
·The sorting office in Derry, based on Great James Street, is currently without 60 of its 120 workforce due to the virus. It is understood that 24 staff are currently off due to Covid-19 and 36 are self-isolating.
A Royal Mail delivery office has undergone an ‘intensive clean’ after three employees tested positive for coronavirus. The affected workers are now self-isolating at home following the outbreak at the Stone sorting office.
·The Communication Workers Union (CWU) said there had been 16 confirmed cases in the Bathgate delivery office and warned sharing postal vans could contribute to the virus spreading at other sites.
Seven workers at a busy Royal Mail depot in East Renfrewshire have tested positive for Covid-19.
Seven people have recently tested positive for coronavirus at the Newton Mearns Delivery Office.
In Fife, there has been one confirmed case in the Dunfermline delivery office.
This list of offices with Covid 19 cases is growing and by no means complete. Royal Mail alongside the CWU are downplaying the dangers, and in some cases, outbreaks are deliberately being kept secret. It is well known that cases of Covid 19 have happened at major London offices, but nothing has appeared about them in the press.
Whistleblowers & Strike Action
This wall of silence is forcing some workers to take matters into their own hands. Opposition from postal workers to these attacks on their health and working condition although inchoate is the start of much more significant opposition to the attacks from Royal Mail management.
One action taken by postal workers is to upload footage of offices that are a danger to health onto social media. Postal workers are also contacting newspapers anomalously in order to speak about the fact that staff are not being protected properly in breach of health and safety rules.
Some employees posted a 45-second video clip taken on October 2 this year. The video shows some staff members with no social distancing measures in place.
One whistleblower told the Worcester News: “No temperature checks are being carried out, no hand sanitiser is available, and staff are not wearing masks, and there is no social distancing at all. “I am concerned about the residents of Malvern as well as staff.”
Royal Mail responded to the videos with the usual platitudes saying: “Throughout this crisis, every decision we make puts the health of our people and customers first. We have a range of preventive measures in place to protect both our customers and our colleagues. As well as encouraging good hand hygiene, standard ways of working have been revised to ensure that colleagues maintain appropriate social distancing at all times.”
By far the most serious outbreak of Covid 19 as regards postal workers in the UK has happened in Derry, Northern Ireland. Postal workers were so enraged by the lack of protection they took strike action because they felt that they were being led like lambs to the slaughter due to the unsafe working conditions. They demanded a deep clean of the premises before they returned to work.
Charlie Kelly, from the Communication Workers’ Union (CWU), spoke to Belfast Live saying “I believe that management is hoping to have more staff back within the next week but until at least Friday the sorting office is only focusing on delivering packages rather than letters. That has been happening over the last week because the situation has escalated within the last week. We now have around 60 staff off due to coronavirus and four other staff off due to other issues, and you can only imagine the pressure that puts the workforce. We have been like this now since March – due to the restrictions people are naturally shopping more online, and that is putting further pressure on staff to deliver everything on time. And the staff are still feeling incredibly uneasy about the entire situation. We are about to go into what is usually the busiest time of the year for us. Half the staff are currently off, and the virus does not appear to be going away anytime soon.
The walkout in Derry became the precursor for other postal workers to walk out on strike. In Strabane, both Royal Mail and CWU officials managed partially, for now, to keep a lid on the growing anger amongst postal workers. Although workers in Strabane briefly walked out and returned only because a deep clean of the office was carried out.Royal Mail’s attitude towards the Covid 19 pandemic should not be seen as just a case of bad management but is the product of their subordination of the human needs to the drive for profits and in some cases the accumulation of personal wealth.
The pandemic is a historic event that has exposed the economic, political, social and moral bankruptcy of Royal Mail. It is laying bare the unbridgeable chasm that exists between the businessmen that run Royal Mail and the needs and interests of postal workers.
Royal Mail Management has seen the pandemic as a “trigger event” in which to carry out an agenda that has been on the table ever since Royal Mail was privatised back in 2013.
The talks that are currently being held behind closed doors between Royal Mail and the CWU will be seen as a historic moment. The outcome of these talks will govern what will happen to the 500-year-old institution in the decades to come.
Nothing good will come out of these talks. Postal workers will face an unprecedented attack on their jobs and conditions to say nothing about the dangers to their health.
Royal Mails position is clear. They would like to do anything they want without the slightest impediment to their plans. They see the union as “only representing the membership on personnel issues” with a reduction of CWU reps and officials by 25%.
The position of the Communication Workers’ Union (CWU) is clear it will not only roll over and play dead but will alongside Royal Mail implement any changes at the same time seeking to prevent the undoubted opposition to these attacks from postal workers. The CWU role as an industrial policeman is matched by its continued political suppression of postal workers through its alliance with the Labour Party. The CWU claims that Labour in power will renationalise the postal service after it deregulated Royal Mail during its last period in office.
As was said in a previous article on the World Socialist Website “It was Labour which introduced the skewed form of competition in which private operators gained entry points to the most profitable parts of Royal Mail, while riding on the back of its mail delivery network. While the private sector effectively received state-subsidised profits, further pressure was applied on Royal Mail to realign itself on a commercial basis. Labour’s Shadow Business Secretary Chuka Ummuna has dismissed any pledge to renationalise as “completely irresponsible” and “like writing a blank cheque.”
If any postal worker thinks their union will fight these attacks in any meaningful way, they should examine the CWU’s actions since 2013. In that time, the Communication Workers Union (CWU), has been integrated into management structures. Only recently the CWU sat on a massive live ballot for strike action given to them by postal workers seeking a fight against Royal Mail and did nothing with it except use it as a bargaining tool to get their feet under the negotiating table. In return for seats at the top table and the privileges that go with them, the CWU is seeking to impose Royal Mail’s agenda for change now that the strike ballot has now run out.
“Royal Mail has been privatised for seven years now,” the union’s deputy General Secretary Terry Pullinger tells the UnionDues podcast. “But we have done well in keeping the company together and protecting terms and conditions.” This not true the last seven years have been an unmitigated disaster for postal workers. With the CWU’s help, the dismantling this public asset has created an expendable workforce and allow private equity companies to feast off the profits made from the increased exploitation of the work
Postal workers must take the initiative to build their own independent rank-and-file workplace committees to coordinate opposition. These committees must call for their own set of demands, such as safe conditions to protect them from COVID-19, wage increases, the transfer of part-time workers to full-time positions and the nationalisation of Royal Mail without compensation.
Workers must continue to take to social media and other media outlets to share information about what is taking place in their area and can coordinate independent action. Rank-and-file action committees would serve as the means through which postal workers can mobilise their strength, appealing to the broader working class to take part in the fight to defend all social and democratic rights, including the preparation of strike action with other workers throughout the UK and globally.
Postal workers are urged to contact the Socialist Equality Party -firstname.lastname@example.org
Time to Act Over More COVID 19 outbreaks
In the last few weeks, over thirty postal workers at six different delivery offices have tested positive for Covid 19. Recently Royal Mail confirmed that ten postal workers at the Bathgate Delivery Office in Scotland are now self-isolating at home after testing positive for Coronavirus. These cases come off the back of a case in a Fife sorting office in September, and three workers at the Dunfermline office were sent home to isolate
It has been confirmed that two workers have tested positive at its Leeds depots. Four postal workers at Scarborough’s Royal Mail delivery office have tested positive for Covid-19.
Another office at Hastings has had to undergo a deep clean after a further outbreak of COVID 19 amongst staff. Hastings had a previous case in July after a member of staff tested positive. Four postal workers at a Liverpool delivery office have tested positive for Coronavirus. It is not known how many workers are quarantined awaiting test results.
Royal Mail Platitudes
In what has become almost like groundhog day when an outbreak is reported. Royal Mail issue a perfunctory statement regarding safety and health. Once this announcement is made, it is business as usual. Nothing is heard how sick postal workers who are off work are and how they caught the virus only that they are ‘recuperating.’
“Royal Mail takes the health and safety of its colleagues, its customers and the local communities in which we operate very seriously. “They are now recuperating at home, and we wish them a speedy recovery. We have carried out an intensive clean of the building. “We are currently processing mail as normal at our Bathgate office. The office is open as normal.”
Well, this is hardly a “normal” situation, and the longer it goes on, it is only a matter of time before postal workers start adding to the four dead postal workers already.
The situation facing postal workers is reaching a critical mass. Royal Mail is making large profits from parcel deliveries while postal workers are falling sick. The last few weeks alone have seen the share price go through the roof again as postal workers become sicker.
If this crisis has proved one thing, it is the inability of the CWU(Communication Workers Union) to protect its workforce. The negotiations currently underway have the air of fiddling while Rome burns or even arranging deckchairs on the Titanic. The role of the CWU has been crucial during this 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.
It is clear that the very limited safety measures in place are not working and are putting postal workers lives in danger. Again it will not be long before more postal workers are added to the four deaths already. I call on workers who are not happy with the COVID-19 dangers they have been subjected to by unions and management at Royal Mail and want to fight the restructure and the dangerous conditions to contact the Socialist Equality Party at email@example.com
Yet More Postal Workers Test Positive for COVID 19
Four postal workers at a Liverpool delivery office have tested positive for Coronavirus. An unknown number of workers are quarantined awaiting test results.
This is the second report of a Coronavirus outbreak in a week as an outbreak at a Bury sorting office in Greater Manchester Royal Mail has left several postal workers recovering at home. Bury And Liverpool have seen a significant escalation of COVID 19 cases recently.
Royal Mail has been deliberately vague as to the numbers of postal workers infected because it does not like anything to impinge on its profit drive.
Time and time again when an outbreak occurs it trots out the usual mantra that “Royal Mail takes the health and safety of its colleagues, its customers and the local communities in which we operate very seriously”. “During this time, we have carried out a full, enhanced clean of the building as a precautionary measure. The Bury Delivery Office remains open as normal.”
Once this announcement is made, it is business as usual. Nothing is heard how sick postal workers who are off work are and how they caught the virus only that they are ‘recuperating.’
Significantly Royal Mail has made sure that its measures have been ratified by the CWU saying “All staff have been briefed about the social distancing measures jointly agreed by local management and the CWU. This has been supplemented with visible reminders such as posters and one-way floor markings.”
The role of the CWU has been crucial during this 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. It is also no accident that the sicker postal workers get, the higher the share price goes.
As I said in an earlier article “the brutal working conditions that exist in Royal Mail are down to not only Royal Mail, but are the product of the union’s collaboration with the company going back decades.
The CWU is currently in negotiations with Royal Mail after boasting that it has brought Royal Mail to the table and is demanding adherence to the 2017 Four Pillars Agreement. The CWU claims this heralded a new way of working that enshrined postal workers’ pay and conditions in law.
As the WSWS has explained, the Four Pillars deal was a sellout and included an inferior pension scheme, reduction in working hours in return for productivity boosts through alterations to delivery routes, new duty patterns, new working practices, and greater use of technology to monitor performance. Behind the backs of workers, the CWU is agreeing on fundamental changes in working practices that will be to the detriment of most postal workers.
To clear the path for these changes, the union has cleared 600 disagreements off the table so that Royal Mail will be given free rein to impose revisions or job cuts without the threat of strike action”.
It is clear that the very limited safety measures in place are not working and are putting postal workers lives in danger. It will not be long before more postal workers are added to the four deaths already. I call on workers who are not happy with the COVID-19 dangers they have been subjected to by unions and management at Royal Mail and want to fight the restructure and the dangerous conditions to contact the Socialist Equality Party at firstname.lastname@example.org
Talks between Royal Mail and the Communication Workers Union will end in job losses
By a socialist postal worker
31 July 2020
The following comment article was submitted to the WSWS by a British postal worker.
Talks between Royal Mail and the Communication Workers Union (CWU) mark a new stage in their joint offensive against pay, working conditions and health.
The track record of the CWU is proof of this.
In 2014, the union signed off on the “Agenda for Growth” agreement. The current general secretary of the CWU, Dave Ward, was part of the negotiating team that accepted what was tantamount to a no-strike deal, agreeing to the clause:
“The employer shall be entitled to notify the CWU at any time that any of the Protections will no longer continue, if…there is national-scale industrial action (in the form of a strike or action short of a strike) which has been authorised at the national level by the CWU [which] will have, or is reasonably likely to have, a…disruptive effect.”
Ward, portrayed as a “left” by groups such as the Socialist Party and Socialist Workers Party, is a champion of a “partnership approach.” The pseudo-left groups made much of Ward’s campaign for general secretary, especially his “no blind loyalty to Labour” stance. But blind or not, Ward is certainly loyal to the Labour Party bureaucracy.
Throughout negotiations, Ward has bragged about bringing Royal Mail to the table and demanding adherence to the 2017 Four Pillars Agreement. The CWU claims this heralded a new way of working, enshrining postal workers’ pay and condition in law. Four Pillars was a sellout and included an inferior pension scheme, reduction in working hours in return for productivity boosts through alterations to delivery routes, new duty patterns, new working practices, and greater use of technology to monitor performance.
The CWU said that Four Pillars would see a reduction of part-time work and increase full-time jobs. The opposite has happened. There has been a growth of 20-hour and 25-hour contracts, both on worse pensions than full-time workers, which have led to the creation of a two-tier workforce. Calling for the retention of the 2017 Four Pillars Agreement, which included a range of cost “efficiencies” to the detriment of workers, has only guaranteed the CWU a seat at the table.
Royal Mail Chairman Keith Williams and UK Operations CEO Stuart Simpson have paid lip service to the Four Pillars Agreement, while seeking to impose former CEO Rico Back’s plan for further attacks. The CWU has accepted the accelerated attacks on postal workers’ conditions, saying, “We know things have to change.”
Behind the backs of workers, the CWU is agreeing fundamental changes in working practices that will be to the detriment of most postal workers. To clear the path for these changes, the union has cleared 600 disagreements off the table so that Royal Mail will be given free rein to impose revisions or job cuts without the threat of strike action.
Dave Ward and his deputy, Terry Pullinger, spoke of the need to accept the revisions because Royal Mail had backed down over its move to separate off Parcelforce from letters. They insisted, “We cannot always be in dispute mode, we have to move things forward. If nothing moves, we end up with no industry and no job.”
The CWU has echoed Royal Mail’s mantra, saying that post-workers must ask themselves, “How can we make some savings?” The CWU even had the nerve to say that some revisions “can go the members’ way in some places.”
Working with the CWU has necessitated Royal Mail bosses changing tactics but not their long-term plans.
It has been mooted that a new deal will undermine the Universal Service Obligation, and will involve postal workers working Sundays, delivering parcels to offset job losses with a five-day USO possibly excluding Saturday deliveries. The union has admitted that 20,000 jobs will eventually go, saying that at least they will not be mandatory redundancies but voluntary. But what happens if Royal Mail does not get 20,000 voluntary redundancies? The CWU will not fight this, given its long record of reneging on votes for strike action. The CWU’s London Division has warned that “these negotiations are going to be possibly the biggest since the ending of the second delivery and will mean major change[s].”
This means postal workers accepting “minimising letter decline,” “diversifying” deliveries and job losses.
Parcel volumes are up 64 percent according to Royal Mail’s financial results, increasing the already heavy workload faced by postal workers. Royal Mail has given massive amounts of money to shareholders. In the last seven years since privatisation, the hedge funds and other significant shareholders controlling Royal Mail have extracted over £1 billion in dividends and other remunerations.
Royal Mail announced in its financial result that it was losing £1 million a day due to the coronavirus crisis. It threatened that “change” would have to accelerate. Shortly after the release of the financial results, it announced that 2,000 managers would lose their jobs as part of £130 million savings.
While the CWU has boasted about its newfound love affair with Royal Mail, it has been extraordinarily silent on Royal Mail’s plans to increase profits for its shareholders. Despite a temporary reduction of dividends, Royal Mail has said “the opportunity remains to create more value for shareholders.” One such opportunity is to sell off its very profitable parcels company, GLS. This would create an enormous dividend for shareholders.
Royal Mail has continued with the selling of its prime infrastructure. In 2017, the company sold part of its land at Mount Pleasant in London to property developers Taylor Wimpey for £193 million. Just recently, a large logistics warehouse used by Royal Mail has been purchased by an investment company at the cost of £13 million. The selling of what is the largest and busiest Parcelforce depot in the UK, handling around 20,000 parcels per day, is one indicator that far from safeguarding jobs, CWU talks with Royal Mail are a cover for attacks escalating behind the backs of postal workers.
At the start of the coronavirus crisis, the union called off a strike voted for by 94.5 percent of members on a 63.4 percent turnout. Without any consultation of its membership, Ward and Pullinger proposed a gentlemen’s agreement with Royal Mail and Boris Johnson’s Conservative government. In a “proposal to the company based on putting the interests of the nation first,” the CWU offered up Royal Mail workers as an “additional emergency service.” The CWU claimed this would end attacks on jobs and conditions and see the necessary safety measures implemented. Already, four postal workers have died of COVID-19, with many more sick at home or in hospital.
The fast pace of change means that it is later than postal workers think. They must reject the CWU’s mantra that they have the best interests of postal workers and are working for a better future. To take forward the struggle in defence of postal workers’ health and to oppose the onslaught on jobs and pay demands the formation of rank-and-file committees.
These committees must begin to coordinate a company-wide counter-offensive, rejecting the CWU’s call for collaboration with management, and taking the international class struggle as their starting point.
Against plans to carve up and hive off the company, the demand must be for Royal Mail to be nationalised without compensation and placed under
Three postal workers test positive at UK Royal Mail’s Medway Mail Centre
By Paul Lee
14 September 2020
Postal workers at Medway Mail Centre are still concerned after three postal workers tested positive for coronavirus, despite Royal Mail’s claim to have cleaned the delivery office.
Only opened in 2012, the Medway is categorised as being “state-of-the-art.” The contraction of COVID-19 by three postal workers demonstrates that Royal Mail is continuing to sacrifice workers’ health in a scramble for profit.
A Royal Mail spokesperson trotted out the usual palliatives saying, “Royal Mail takes the health and safety of its colleagues, its customers and the local communities in which we operate very seriously.”
The Medway Mail Centre joins a long list of Royal Mail offices that have had outbreaks of coronavirus. Last month, after an outbreak among 12 staff, 900 postal workers at Manchester’s main Oldham Road mail depot were told they might have the deadly virus. Even so, they were informed that it would be four days before they were tested. If workers wanted a test before then, they were told it would involve a drive to an out-of-town location.
The testing programme was outsourced to the private sector. G4S, the firm given the contract, eventually turned up at the depot but would only test workers on the day shift and refused to cover the evening shift—saying its contract only covered carrying out tests until 6 p.m. Manchester City Council was forced to contact the Department of Health and Social Care to complain, with all the workers eventually tested.
Royal Mail’s Clacton delivery office, in Oxford Road, Clacton – On-Sea , had to undergo an urgent deep clean after Royal Mail was informed that an employee had contracted COVID-19. Six cases were found at the Wellingborough delivery office in Northampton and two workers ended up in the hospital.
There have been walkouts over safety fears at Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, and High Wycombe, near London, after employees tested positive for the virus. Postal workers at offices in Bury St. Edmunds, Chatham, Southampton, Stoke-on-Trent, Warrington, Didcot, Edinburgh, Alloa and Fife took unofficial action over safety.
The worry of catching the virus is having a significant impact on postal workers’ physical and mental health. Darren Beech, who worked at the Kidsgrove delivery office, committed suicide and was found by his two brothers who visited his Kidsgrove home on May 17. He was reported to be deeply worried about the coronavirus and felt “unprotected.” Beech was already anxious about the state of his home and his financial situation. North Staffordshire assistant coroner Margaret Jones said, “The deceased was anxious over the state of repair of his house, financial matters and health issues. He was not coping well during the COVID-19 lockdown.”
Darren’s brother, Brian, said in a statement, “He was recently worried about finances, although I’m not aware if he had any serious debt. He was also recently worried about the COVID-19 situation as he said Royal Mail did not adequately protect him at work.”
Other deaths have drawn attention to working conditions at Royal Mail. In August, delivery worker Mark Cremer collapsed and died while on his round. The 55-year-old man was found unconscious by a member of the public and died in Worthing Hospital. A review of Royal’s Mail’s safety procedures has been called for.
Cremer, based at Lancing Delivery Office in West Sussex, was working during the hottest part of August as temperatures exceeded 34 degrees C (93 F). It is standard for postal workers to be out on delivery for three to four hours in the searing heat. Cremer was not the only postal worker to die in the hot weather. Phil Bentham from Barrow-in-Furness, aged 59, died at the end of his round during the same week as Cremer. It is reported that Bentham had recently returned to work after 17 weeks of shielding from COVID-19.
What is clear to many postal workers is that delivery offices are dangerous to their health.
Postal worker and writer Dan Bradley revealed the horrendous situation facing postal staff—as their workload was ramped up during the pandemic—in a recent Guardian article. “The truth is, since lockdown started in March, my days begin with nausea. The job looks so good on paper, but the reality is barely tenable. Like many postal workers hired since privatisation and an increasing number of people in my office, I am on a part-time contract with little to no chance of full-time hours. My annual take-home income, due to the part-time hours, is so low that I simply cannot pay the bills. Even before lockdown forced everyone indoors, causing a huge surge in online parcel deliveries, the workload was backbreaking. A colleague showed me his pedometer—he had walked 16 miles that day. Despite only being in his early 30s, he has received cortisone injections in his feet and shoulders to work through the pain. His situation is not uncommon; plantar fasciitis is endemic, and I see a lot of illness, injury and burnout.”
The Communication Workers Union (CWU) offered its sympathies to the family of Phil Bentham and Mark Cremer, “who died in sad circumstances and we fully understand the grief and anxiety amongst Phil and Mark’s work colleagues in their respective delivery units where emotions are naturally running high.”
But the brutal working conditions that exist in Royal Mail are down to not only Royal Mail, but are the product of the union’s collaboration with the company going back decades.
The CWU is currently in negotiations with Royal Mail after boasting that it has brought Royal Mail to the table and is demanding adherence to the 2017 Four Pillars Agreement. The CWU claims this heralded a new way of working that enshrined postal workers’ pay and conditions in law. As the WSWS has explained, the Four Pillars deal was a sellout and included an inferior pension scheme, reduction in working hours in return for productivity boosts through alterations to delivery routes, new duty patterns, new working practices, and greater use of technology to monitor performance.
Behind the backs of workers, the CWU is agreeing on fundamental changes in working practices that will be to the detriment of most postal workers. To clear the path for these changes, the union has cleared 600 disagreements off the table so that Royal Mail will be given free rein to impose revisions or job cuts without the threat of strike action.
Whatever is agreed, it will mean massive job cuts and a stepping up of productivity. It is being mooted that the Royal Mail will seek the end of the Universal Service Obligation agreement, with Saturday letter deliveries threatened. Another rumoured action is the break-up of Royal Mail, with its parcels company GLS sold off.
Based on the CWU’s record, it will not fight these drastic changes to postal workers’ pay and conditions but will instead collaborate in their imposition. Cremer and Bentham, along with the four postal workers who have died from COVID-19, will not be the last such tragedies as a result of Royal Mail’s profit drive and the CWU’ s treachery.
To oppose the ongoing onslaught of their jobs and conditions, postal workers must organise themselves independently of the CWU. The Socialist Equality Party is fighting for the formation of rank-and-file workplace safety committees in every sector. Last week, the SEP formed an education workers rank-and-file committee, in opposition to the unsafe reopening of schools. We urge postal workers to contact the SEP about your conditions at work and experiences during the