A group of post workers from Leicester spoke to Socialist Worker during last week’s strike about what it’s like to work for Royal Mail and the way that the job impacts on their lives. Between them Mick, Simon, Neil, Mark and Shaba have years of
Neil: “We all work the morning shift. Some of us start at 5.30am, some start much earlier. I start at 4am because my round is very big and the prep (the time we spend sorting out all the mail before we do the delivery) takes a long time.”
Simon: “We generally work between eight and ten hours a day. At five in the morning your brain has to be completely with it in order to prep.
“And during that time the Dom (Delivery Office Manager) is walking round the office shouting, trying to get you to work harder and giving out abuse, or making snide comments about people.”
Mark: “Not many people understand how demanding the job can be – both mentally and physically. Our bosses put us under constant pressure to speed up and get work done quickly. We often have to work late to finish our walk (delivery round).”
Neil: “In addition to our own rounds, we do sorting for the office as a whole. It is generally the more experienced workers who do this, but because they are getting rid of a lot of us, it’s taking longer and longer to do.
“That has a knock-on effect on your walk, and you don’t get out of the office on to the delivery until later. This means you can’t complete the job within the normal time.”
Mark: “Your prep is supposed to take up to three hours, but mine is now taking five hours. During that time, there is constant pressure to speed up. Royal Mail bosses say the amount of mail that we are getting is going down.
“But that’s not true on the delivery side because we deliver all the private contractors’ mail too. They don’t do what’s called the final mile.”
Simon: “These days, if you tell a manager that you can’t get your walk done within time, and that you are going to go over, you’ll probably get a load of abuse.
“I had to represent someone the other day who had been called a liar by a manager when he told him that he was going to go over.”
Shaba: “The effect of all the pressure is that more guys are going off sick with stress, but if that happens, managers put massive pressure on you to come back to work before you are ready.
“Health and safety is going out the window too. You’re supposed to carry a maximum of 16kg in your bag.
“But pressure to get things done means that people are carrying 20kg, even 22kg. Then, if you give yourself an injury, you’re screwed. Royal Mail isn’t going to look after you.”
Mark: “Our bosses say that we are 40 percent underworked. Well if that’s true, they want us to work a ten hour day, five days a week.”
Simon: “What they really want is five workers doing the job of six.”
Mick: “That doesn’t sound much does it? Everyone has to do an extra sixth of a walk.
“But it would mean that you have to complete your own walk – which you already struggle to do in the time – and then drive back to the office, pick up mail, and then drive out somewhere else to finish off another walk.”
The early starts, long hours and constant pressure makes enjoying life away from work much more difficult. All the workers talked about how the job puts pressure on relationships with families and friends.
Mick: “We don’t get much of a nightlife, even at the weekends. By eight or nine o’clock you’re usually ready for bed.
“My 11 year old daughter doesn’t understand why I’m always falling asleep.
“She comes home at about four and wants to spend time with me, but by about five in the afternoon, I’m shattered.”
Neil: “Your body clock is permanently wrecked. Even when you’re on holiday you still end up getting up in the middle of the night, because that’s what you’re used to.”
Many postal workers believe that the increasing pressure of the job is part of a concerted attempt by their bosses to make life unbearable – particularly for longstanding workers.
Shaba: “They would love 40,000 of us to take redundancy and replace us with part timers.”
The Leicester workers explained that management’s insistence on changing their start time by an hour from August onwards is an assault on the workforce.
Shaba: “The changes that Royal Mail wants to make are a massive threat. They are implementing this change without talking to the union, and they show no regard for what this is going to do to people’s lives.
“Not only are we going to lose money as a result of the change, but also, if we start later then we are going to finish later too.
“What about all those people whose childcare is built around our current work times?”
Neil: “They know that this is going to increase the pressure on us to finish our walk within time. Some people are going to have to go in early – in their own time – in order to finish on time.”
Mark: “That’s already happening. I’m always in 15 or 20 minutes early so I can get away at a set time.”
Simon: “The way Royal Mail management work is that they just announce this sort of change, without consultation, then the union has to stand up to them locally, and say, ‘You’re not getting away with this’.”
On the question of pay, all of the workers talked about how it was impossible to buy a house on their wages, and how difficult it was just to make ends meet.
But there was seething anger over the level of bonuses being paid to office managers and top bosses.
Neil: “I support a family with two teenage kids on my income. I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, and the only luxury I have is going to see Leicester City playing football.
“And I still haven’t got any spare money. It been four years since my family had a holiday.
“Even then that was only possible because my wife had won some money on the bingo.
“This year my daughter is going on holiday with her friend’s family. That makes me feel pretty bad.
“Meanwhile, one of my managers is off for three weeks in the Caribbean.
“Some people might think that this fight is just about the poor 2.5 percent pay offer. But it’s about a lot more than that – this is a struggle for our dignity.”