We've just received our ballot papers for the agreement which was negotiated between the Royal Mail and the CWU following last year's strikes. Obviously this isn't the ballot that is on most people's minds at the moment, but the outcome of it could have serious implications for your postal delivery service, regardless of which party comes to power in the general election.
The negotiations took over four months, and it has taken another month or more to prepare the ballot.
The overwhelming mood among delivery staff – at least if you read the forums – seems to be one of rejection. Up to 35,000 delivery workers will be worse off, having to take an immediate pay-cut in the abolition of door-to-door payments, and their replacement by a flat-rate supplement.
Part-time workers will be the worst affected by the changes, as the supplement is pro-rata. A Royal Mail employee working a four-hour shift will only get half the money of a full-time employee for doing exactly the same amount of work.
The agreement commits the Royal Mail to a 75-25% split between full-time and part-time jobs. This was clearly one of the strategic aims of the union in the negotiations. In some postal services in Europe the proportion is reversed, as full-time staff lose their jobs in favour of their part-time rivals.
But the fact is, part-time staff are being discriminated against here. Many part-timers work virtually full-time hours when overtime is taken into account, and it is only the terms of the contract that are different.
There is already a two-tier workforce in the Royal Mail. What this agreement does is to reinforce the gap by making the pay-structure different, too. The union appears to have made a deliberate calculation: to risk the loyalty of part-time staff in the interests of its full-time members.
Again, if you are to believe the forums, there is likely to be a mass exodus from the union if the result of the ballot is positive.
One of the aspects of the agreement that will most affect the public is the new work plan, which it lays out in some detail. This includes a six-day week and later start times. Something very strange is going on here.
The ostensible purpose of the agreement is something loosely described as 'modernisation': that is, the introduction of new technology to speed up processing. And yet, when it comes down to it, we are all going to be starting work an hour later. In order to speed up processing we have to put back delivery times, inconveniencing the public and threatening many small businesses who are reliant on the post. Why would that be, do you think?
There is no explanation for this in the text, but we can make an educated guess. The reason that start times have to be put back is in order to allow the private mail companies time to process their mail and then get it to us. It's a strange kind of business indeed that holds up its own workers and inconveniences its own customers in the interests of its rivals, but that is what appears to be happening here.
Another aspect of the agreement worrying postal workers is the question of productivity. As it says: 'We want to bring everybody's actual performance up to the level of the top 10% performance …'
Postal delivery is intensely physical work. It involves working at top speed for up to four-and-a-half hours at a stretch for five days a week. Imagine four-and-a-half-hour workout sessions and you have some idea of what this means. The younger you are the better. I'm 57 years old, and very fit, but there's no way on earth I could work as fast as the younger members of staff in my office.
What makes that 'top 10% performance' doubly worrying is the fact that it is a moving target. The top 10% is always the top 10% no matter how fast everyone else is working. It gets relatively faster as the workrate as a whole goes up, meaning no matter how hard you work you can never catch up.
There is already a culture of bullying within the Royal Mail. This looks like one more weapon in the armoury of bad-natured managers who – bullied themselves – tend to take their frustrations out on their staff.
Expect later delivery times, unhappy posties and an all-round poorer service if this agreement goes through.