Royal Mail has put its cards on the table. For a small compromise on pay – a 6.7 percent rise over two years – it wants to rip up every national and local agreement between the company and the CWU postal workers’ union.
This would leave a workforce that is compliant and flexible, and a union that is impotent and weak.
The bosses’ vision for the company, spelt out in a 13-page document that it presented in negotiations with the CWU this month, also involves major attacks on the pension scheme.
A key part of the document that Royal Mail wanted the union to sign up to includes the demand for flexible working, which would immediately include:
- Flexible attendances, where being instructed to start work two hours early, or stay two hours late – without notice and without overtime – is the norm.
- All delivery rounds to be finished, even when incoming mail has been delayed, irrespective of how many hours have been worked.
- Accepting that permanent changes to shift patterns can, with seven days notice, be imposed without negotiation.
- Functional flexibility – all workers are expected to cover any duty in their unit at the discretion of management.
But, as the document makes clear, these changes are just the start. The ultimate aim is “total flexibility” and the replacement of overtime payments with a new system of annualised hours.
That would see many workers doing reduced hours through the quieter summer months, and then working up to 13 hours a day during the busy Christmas period – but getting no extra pay for doing so.
“This is the worst document that Royal Mail has ever produced,” says Ryan Ward, the area safety rep for the Romford Amal branch of the CWU.
“If it were implemented, it would hit us twice. Flexible working will ruin family lives and routines, while ending overtime will ruin us financially.
“Lots of people have taken out mortgages on the basis of expected earnings, including overtime.
“This document talks about getting rid of most Saturday and Sunday working – for which overtime rates apply – and replacing overtime with annualised hours.”
Management’s demand for postal workers to perform any duty in their unit – regardless of what they have been employed to do – is an attempt to enforce a form of team-working, and undermine the power of the union.
“It’s an arse-lickers’ charter,” says Paul, a CWU rep from Oxford. “If you do exactly as you are told, you might get duties that suit your needs, and if you’re a union rep that stands up for your mates, you’ll get the shit.
“At present the union ensures that management can’t bully people, and that duties and overtime are allocated fairly.
“But if management had their way, that would go, and everything would be at their discretion.
“If we accepted this, we would be selling everything that has been fought for in the past, and for less than 3.3 percent a year.”
In addition to flexibility Royal Mail is also demanding major changes to the company pension scheme, in which:
- The scheme will be closed to new entrants.
- Retirement age will be increased to 65 years old.
- Benefits will be based on a career average earnings – rather than final salaries – and therefore, in most cases reduced.
“When we started showing the document to people in Romford no one could believe it,” says Ryan. “So I made lots of copies and ensured that the night shift passed it on the day shift. Everyone is livid.
“It’s a declaration of war – its do or die for the union now.”