Royal Mail staff and members of the CWU union have their say on the strikes. Image: CWU/Twitter
Over 100,000 postal workers are engaged in an industrial dispute with Royal Mail over pay and working conditions – the first of its kind in almost a decade.
The industrial dispute has been running for seven months, with multiple offers tabled and later withdrawn. The dispute has turned particularly aggressive with both sides accusing the other of manipulating the facts.
Posties say that undelivered mail is already starting to build up. “I’ve told my sisters: ‘Don’t bother sending Christmas cards this year, they won’t get through’,” John Warren, who has worked as a postman for 42 years in east London, told The Big Issue.
Millions of parcels and letters are stacking up as a “Christmas meltdown” hits delivery offices across the UK, the CWU has claimed. Small businesses too, are taking a hit with leading business figures from eBay, the British Chamber of Commerce and the Federation of Small Businesses calling the strike a “body blow” to independent sellers who rely on the service to make their income.
Here’s what you need to know about the upcoming strikes, why it’s happening, and the most recent negotiations
Royal Mail staff, represented by the Communication Workers Union (CWU), are set to strike on at least 10 dates in the run up to Christmas, targeting dates that are usually the most busy for online shopping deliveries. This year, Black Friday fell on November 25, with businesses offering deals and cut prices to tempt shoppers ahead of Christmas.
Just two days later was Cyber Monday, on November 28, a further day of online deals aimed to entice those who missed out, or refrained, in the previous sale. The CWU planned its strike days around these key dates to cause the most disruption possible, and highlight how central posties are to the digital shopping economy.
Here is the full list of upcoming postal strike dates:
The company has offered a pay rise of up to 9 per cent over 18 months, and the promise of no compulsory redundancies for the next four months (until the end of March 2023), and a bigger voluntary redundancy package.
Royal Mail offered a 9 per cent pay rise over 18 months, and promised no compulsory redundancies for the next four months (until the end of March 2023), and a bigger voluntary redundancy package.
“Royal Mail has urged the CWU to accept the offer and call off planned strike action. Further deterioration in the company’s financial position caused by industrial action will rapidly make the pay offer unaffordable and it may need to be withdrawn,” said a spokesperson at the time.
Rejecting the offer, a CWU spokesperson said that it meant thousands of compulsory redundancies would be inevitable, and that the pay increase actually amounts to “a wholly inadequate, non-backdated 3.5 per cent.”
The union also says that the deal tabled by Royal Mail demanded the CWU “be removed from the workplace” and would no longer be able to support its members in an employment tribunal. It would also entail cuts to sick pay, the removal of additional pay for employees working on sundays, and introduce “technology that will monitor postal workers every minute of the day”.
“These proposals spell the end of Royal Mail as we know it, and its degradation from a national institution into an unreliable, Uber-style gig economy company,” said CWU boss Dave Ward.
After being hailed as key workers during the pandemic, postal workers are feeling more undervalued than ever. While the company is focused on improving productivity to cut costs – it’s losing a million pounds a day – for those putting the mail through letterboxes, the workload is simply too high.
“Enough is enough,” Kevin Simpson, a Royal Mail postal officer from Southend-on-Sea told the Big Issue at the start of the dispute.
“We were putting ourselves at risk throughout the pandemic and I think it’s quite clear that, without working people, this country would come to a stand still. We actually need to be recognised for the work that we’re doing.”
What does the CWU mean by the Uberisation of Royal Mail?
Ward has said: “Posties are in the fight of their lives against the Uberisation of Royal Mail and the destruction of their conditions.”
Where Royal Mail claims to offer “the best terms and conditions in the industry”, union members accuse bosses of a “race to the bottom” to erode workers’ rights by moving to a gig economy-style parcel courier model, reliant on casual labour;
In theory, the gig economy can allow more freedom for both the company and the worker – a person only has to work when they like – but equally, an employer can choose to hand out work only when they deem necessary.
Why have Royal Mail workers gathered in central London?
The CWU is holding what it says will be the biggest postal workers’ demonstration in living memory in central London. Around 15,000 striking workers are expected to travel to the city on Friday December 9, in a bid to increase the pressure on Royal Mail to up its offer.
What is Royal Mail saying?
Royal Mail turned a £416 million profit last year domestically, with the growth in parcels during the pandemic giving the company a “short-term lifeline”, a spokesperson said.
However, the company announced an operating loss of £92m in the first quarter of 2022, and says it is desperate to modernise its systems and workforce to make cost savings. The company has said it cannot rule out job cuts if the CWU continues to add dates to the postal strikes.
“The negative commercial impact of any strike action will only make pay rises less affordable and could put jobs at risk,” said a Royal Mail spokesperson.
“The CWU has a responsibility to recognise the reality of the situation Royal Mail faces as a business, and to engage urgently on the changes required.”
The company denies that the changes it is bringing in make it into a gig economy business.
“We are bringing in new recruits on different contracts, but their terms, conditions and pensions will still be the best in the industry. This is not the gig economy. We have a generous voluntary redundancy scheme and are NOT making compulsory redundancies”, wrote CEO Simon Thompson in an open letter posted on the Royal Mail website.
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