Socialist Worker

Postal workers: ‘Efficiency drive’ spells danger

by Charlie Kimber
Issue No. 1990

Key decisions were made this week which will affect every Royal Mail worker.

The CWU union’s postal executive committee was meeting as Socialist Worker went to press on Tuesday to consider an “efficiency” deal recommended by national officials. The deal claims to have separated this year’s pay negotiations from talks about efficiency – it has done nothing of the kind.

It is premised on workers and management agreeing to “savings”. Some 40 percent of these savings will go into a national pay pool for workers, the rest will go to Royal Mail.

  • This is in reality a bonus scheme where workers police themselves and are encouraged to resent anyone who is deemed to be slow or not filling every second with profitable toil.
  • Savings will come only from job cuts, working harder, altering start times, changing full-time jobs to part-time and other cost reduction measures.

    Yet for the past few months the CWU has been steadfastly resisting such measures and, quite rightly, insisting that workers are already under intense pressure and cannot be expected to do more.

    If that was true before, why is it suddenly up for review now?

The real agenda here is Royal Mail’s plans for 40,000 job cuts. It should be resisted, not embraced.

  • The efficiency savings will have a huge effect on pay. If this process produces a 1 or 2 percent rise, management will take that into account when offering its basic pay increase.

    Even if it were right to go down this efficiency review road, the CWU should insist on winning a good pay deal first and consider any bonuses afterwards.

  • The bonus scheme will divide workers. Most of the savings will go into a national pool. Only when offices are particularly keen on cutting their own throats (making more than 5 percent cuts in their local costs) will they keep some of the bonus locally.

    So some offices will endure big cuts, others will not. And they will both get the same bonus.

    This will breed resentment and potential division.

  • Postal workers are aiming to get the national average wage of £395 a week – 27 percent more than they presently get. There is a dangerous drift towards believing this can be achieved through a basic rise around the rate of inflation and real improvements through a share of savings.

    This is a vision of tens of thousands of job cuts, a core of relatively well paid full-time staff and a mass of part-timers. This is the bosses’ vision and the union should oppose it.

  • If this deal is accepted, the union will withdraw strike ballots at around 60 offices which were triggered by Royal Mail imposing cuts by executive action. Royal Mail will withdraw the executive action and put the cuts proposals into the efficiency review.

The union is also ready to accept a moratorium on strikes about efficiency savings until 30 April.

It is a clear gain, and a tribute to workers’ readiness to strike, that Royal Mail has been forced back. But why agree a moratorium? There has always been a trend for moratoriums which are notionally about a single issue to become a general curb on strikes. This is what happened in 2001 when a moratorium about the single issue of working practices soon covered virtually everything.

In the 15 months before the moratorium (April 2000-June 2001) Royal Mail lost 111,792 days to industrial action. In the 15 months after the moratorium was agreed 9,587 days were lost. This fall of 91 percent secured the lowest level of industrial action within Royal Mail for ten years. This was not because management had become cuddly. The moratorium is much briefer this time, but it was wrong to propose agreeing it.

  • Finally, there were no proposals from the leadership to consult the members of the union over such a far reaching deal. That’s wrong. If the deal is rejected, or put out to ballot, the union should immediately organise ballots and strikes at all the offices which have requested them.

If the deal goes though the postal executive, CWU members should protest at the lack of consultation and prepare for battles office by office. In considering the forthcoming executive elections they should also note who voted which way.


Postal workers in Belfast are ready to ballot for strikes after management imposed penalties following the recent victorious strike. These included attacks on overtime and union rights. The prospect of a renewed battle may make management think again. If they do not, Belfast should fight and everyone must back them.

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Sat 4 Mar 2006, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1990
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