By Nick Clark
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Royal Mail and union leaders sign up to rotten agreement

This article is over 1 years, 2 months old
Suspended reps and union members have to rely on the perils of a review
Issue 2845

CWU and Royal Mail: Wandsworth delivery office picket line, December 2022

Royal Mail workers reacted with anger and disbelief on Thursday after CWU union leaders unveiled a rotten agreement with top bosses.

The agreement—a prelude to a wider deal aimed at ending workers’ long-running fight over jobs and pay—commits union reps to overseeing attacks on working conditions. What’s more, it leaves hundreds of suspended CWU reps and members flapping in the wind.

The agreement is the first outcome of a process of talks between union leaders and bosses. It is supposed to deal with the assaults on jobs and working conditions that managers have forced through in recent weeks.

 On the orders of top bosses, Royal Mail managers have forced through cuts to deliveries and collections—merging them into fewer, longer routes and changing start times. They’ve forced workers to take on longer, often unmanageable workloads, and to keep working later in the day.

 CWU general secretary Dave Ward had insisted that he wouldn’t make an agreement with Royal Mail until they’d stopped “executive action.” Executive action means bosses making the changes without consulting local union reps.

 Many workers hoped that meant the changes—known as “revisions”—would stop. Instead, Ward agreed that they would continue with union reps’ involvement. In practice, it means CWU reps will be responsible for agreeing and implementing cuts alongside managers.

 In a video broadcast to CWU members, Ward told them union leaders had “agreed to deploy the current phase of revisions that are going on across the country by the end of the financial year.” He added, “We do expect our reps everywhere to be able to re-engage in the revisions.”

 Ward said union leaders had agreed to the changes “to try and assist the financial situation in the company.” In other words, that means accepting that workers need to take a hit for the sake of keeping Royal Mail profitable.

The agreement said the changes would be negotiated to “improve productivity” and to make workplaces more “efficient.” In simple terms, that means squeezing more work out of fewer workers.

As for changes that bosses have already forced through, the agreement says reps and managers will review them. But this is only to ensure they meet “efficiency levels,” and have been done within an agreed process. It doesn’t promise to reverse the attacks. 

Meanwhile, the union reps and members managers have suspended during the dispute—as many as 200—will be left at the mercy of an “independent” review process. Bosses haven’t even agreed to stop suspending people, with union leaders only asking them to be “sensible.”

Acting deputy general secretary Andy Furey said that 29 workers at a delivery office in Redcar were set to attend disciplinary meetings on Friday after an unofficial walkout against revisions. “We’re trying to say to management, be clever, don’t make a bad situation worse,” he said.

Many workers watching the briefing on Facebook and YouTube reacted with anger. “Is the union actually doing anything about the changes already pushed through?! Increased walk size, hours changed etc. I’ve never seen staff as fed up and exhausted,” said one.

Others demanded that the union calls new strikes. “Need to strike still whilst we negotiate,” said another. “Getting a little annoyed that this is dragging on.”

The union’s head of communications Chris Webb had to tell Ward and Furey, “To paraphrase some of the members, they think the union’s been had over here and think we’re in a position where we’re powerless. That union have just bought some time from us and the union’s a bit naive here.”

The agreement is a warning that worse could be yet to come, as union leaders and bosses aim to settle the entire dispute by 12 March. Furey said union leaders would probably not update their members again until then.

And Ward said that any final pay agreement was “not going to be easy because of the company’s finances.” He added, “We acknowledge that. We do understand that they are in a serious situation.”

The terrible agreement shows where holding off strikes for the sake of talks and securing a deal at any cost could lead. Royal Mail workers could still yet overturn it. That means refusing to go along with revisions and walking out when managers go on the attack, pushing back against the agreement—and striking.

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