Socialist Worker

Royal Mail workers stage unofficial walkouts over coronavirus safety

by Nick Clark
Issue No. 2699

Workers at Royal Mail have a history of taking unofficial action such as in Milton Keynes in 2017 (pictured)

Workers at Royal Mail have a history of taking unofficial action such as in Milton Keynes in 2017 (pictured) (Pic: Dave Ward/Twitter)


Workers in at least two Royal Mail offices in Scotland have struck unofficially over coronavirus safety fears.

CWU union members at a delivery office in Alloa, Clackmannanshire, walked out on Monday, refusing to deliver any more junk mail.

Strikers complained that conditions inside the office were unsafe—with people having to work too close to each other and with no protective equipment.

And while the CWU has called for Royal Mail to focus on vital supplies during the coronavirus outbreak, bosses want workers to keep delivering leaflets.

One striker told the Daily Record newspaper, “We work on top of each other in the sorting office and it hasn’t got any better since the outbreak. The managers don’t seem to be bothered by it and just want us to continue working as normal which isn’t possible or fair.

“The only PPE protective clothing we’ve been given are gloves and sanitiser that turned up on Monday. It’s not good enough.”

He added, “Royal Mail has asked us to continue delivering non-essential junk mail to every household. It not only puts us at extra risk, but also vulnerable people in the community because the virus can be transmitted on letters and flyers.

“They are putting profit over everyone’s health.

“Some of these companies aren't even operating at the moment, so why do they need flyers? It’s unacceptable for us and our customers.”

Priority 

Meanwhile another 15 workers struck at a Royal Mail office in Lochgelly, Fife. CWU regional secretary Craig Anderson said, “The priority here is the safety of our workforce.

“As a priority, Royal Mail should also be looking at stopping the delivery of unnecessary mail for the time being.”

There were also reports of action in Edinburgh.

Speaking to members via video on Tuesday, CWU general secretary Dave Ward said that if workplaces didn’t have the right safety and social distancing measures, “You should not be working and we will back you.”

Yet he has previously said he wasn’t calling for unofficial action as the union had to “protect the industry and sustain the business.”

Speaking on Tuesday he said, ““We don’t want a row with the company, we want to work with the company and with the Government and for the country.

“And we want to do that in a way that really does help the country.”

Workers at a delivery office in Medway, Kent, walked out on Thursday of last week. “The employer has not done enough for us to feel like we’re kept safe. We’ve not been provided with PPE,” said one striker.

“We had a general meeting out in the yard and when asked what we would like to do we agreed we don’t want to be working there.”

And workers at a delivery office in Hedge End, in Hampshire, also “removed themselves” from their workplace over safety concerns on the same day. They returned to work after bosses backed down over their demands.

CWU Wessex South Central branch reported, “Hand sanitisers turned up within ten minutes of removing themselves.

“They are now bringing in staggering starts and have put a bullring outside to free up space in the office.”

Yet the fact that Royal Mail managers still force workers to deliver junk mail shows they want to press ahead with business as usual.

And bosses and the Tories are keen to avoid transforming Royal Mail into a public service run for people not profit.

Royal Mail should urgently be reorganised to prioritise essential deliveries such as tests, medicines and food while also protecting workers’ safety. But bosses won’t be persuaded to do that in talks—they have to be forced by action such as the walkouts in Scotland.

The strikes show how workers can stand up to bosses forcing them into unsafe conditions.


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