Socialist Worker

The drive for profits at all costs is ruining the service, say postal workers

"THE POST is getting worse and worse"—almost everyone feels it, and figures released last week confirmed it. But who is to blame? Socialist Worker spoke to NORMAN CANDY from the London Region of the Communication Workers Union (CWU) to find

Issue No. 1918

IT CAME as no surprise to those of us who work in the industry that the figures showed Royal Mail has, once again, failed to meets its service targets.

We have been saying for some considerable time that putting profit before quality would lead to the sort of problems that the service is suffering from.

Postal workers are concerned about the failings in the service on many levels.

It is disastrous for a public service if there is a general feeling that it doesn’t work and is getting worse.

It is an old Tory trick to run down and underfund a service in the run-up to an ideological argument for its privatisation.

That could be what is happening in the post. There are many managers and senior figures who would like to see it in private hands.

Even if it doesn’t go that far, a rush of further competition from the private sector is coming—ministers and managers will keep saying that there is public pressure for change because the service doesn’t work.

In addition, public anger over the bad service can lead to attacks on postal workers.

We have seen a number of workers assaulted in east London because people see programmes like the Channel 4 one on “thieving postmen” and assume our members are responsible for lost or delayed post. We have every interest in a good, efficient public service.

We have warned that unless the emphasis moves from cost-cutting to investment in quality, the figures for the period up to Christmas will be even worse.

Management’s drive to meet its financial targets is the main cause of the disastrous figures.

The equipment, vehicles and working environment for our members to carry out their jobs are inadequate.

Casual staff are still being employed because the pay is not sufficient to retain permanent staff in many areas.

One problem is that the distribution network is not functioning properly, and mail is simply stuck in the system for days on end.

Royal Mail moved to a “hub and spoke” system that was all about cost-cutting.

We knew it would be a pile of crap and told them so. Even independent consultants confirmed this.

But of course Allan Leighton and the other Royal Mail bosses blundered on regardless.

To take an example, West Central and W1 deliveries are in the Rathbone Place office in London. Together they make up one of the biggest delivery offices in Europe.

One thousand people work there, and every day without fail they clear all the work.

But the delivery figures last week were some of the worst in Britain.

And that’s because the work doesn’t come in.

This is a management problem where they have utterly prioritised cutting costs over service delivery.

This is a political choice that the government and management have made.

The London CWU believes that the current business ethos is to increase profits at all costs—but worse may be coming.

The current emphasis is the same as any private company.

You only have to look at the railways, water, gas and electricity to see what’s going on.

However, the union does not blame it all on Royal Mail management. Postcomm (the government-appointed regulator) and Postwatch (the “consumer body”) are equally responsible.

Postcomm places ridiculous and contradictory targets on the business, and Postwatch is more of a “pet poodle” than a “watchdog”.

How Patricia Hewitt, as the minister responsible for the Post Office, continues to escape blame is breathtaking.

She has managed to oversee the destruction of both the postal and counters network.

Postal workers and the public have interests in common.

Let’s target the real enemies of public service, not turn on the staff who are trying their best in difficult circumstances.

We should oppose privatisation together, and demand proper funding, staffing, pay and conditions to give us a service we can be proud of.

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Sat 11 Sep 2004, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1918
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