Royal Mail union activists reacted with fury on Friday when their leaders presented them with a terrible deal with bosses.
CWU union leaders hope the agreement will put an end to a long, hard-fought battle to save workers’ pay and the future of their jobs. But it includes a surrender on pay—accepting just a ten percent increase over three years, some of which has already been paid.
And it allows Royal Mail managers to launch many of the sweeping attacks on jobs and conditions that will move the service closer to a “gig-economy” model. What’s more, it leaves the hundreds of reps and union members suspended during the dispute—across 18 days of strikes—at the mercy of a review chaired by a right wing Lord.
The details of the deal show bosses’ determination to ram through attacks on workers. They are vicious and brutal and cannot be allowed to get their way. They haven’t won everything they wanted, but bosses said on Friday that the agreement represented an “important step forward in the turnaround of Royal Mail”. That means more profits, worse conditions and a weaker union.
CWU reps and activists gathered for a briefing in Bristol on Friday, where union leaders gave them the deal to read for the first time. One worker who was there said there was then an angry discussion from the floor.
“A lot of reps said it would be a difficult deal to sell,” he said. “And a good third of them just said they didn’t like it—that they were getting texts from members saying it’s not good. The deal accepts a 2 percent increase last year. That was the whole reason we went on strike in the first place.”
CWU leaders champion the deal as a vast improvement on Royal Mail bosses’ original plans to smash up the service, along with workers’ pay and jobs. But it accepts bosses’ case that the changes are necessary to protect Royal Mail’s profits—and won only some concessions, and limited protections.
For union leaders, the important thing is that the bosses haven’t just swept them aside. As acting deputy general secretary Andy Furey put it on Friday, “The CWU is locked into the agreement as we are there—we’re going to be involved every step of the way.”
But what that really means is that union leaders and reps will be tied into an agreement that erodes workers’ pay and conditions. Workers should vote to reject the deal when it is put to a ballot—and demand more, harder-hitting strikes immediately.
The rep in Bristol said, “I’m going to be saying this is not a good deal. The union leaders are going to try and push this through, but they’ll meet a lot of difficulty. Everyone who spoke against it today got a round of applause.
“It’s a matter of what that turns into, and what we do next. If this gets kicked out, then we’ll have to strike.”
The agreement on wages is a real-terms pay cut over three years. It accepts there’ll be no improvement on the 2 percent that was forced on workers last year—and which they voted to strike against.
There would then also be a 6 percent increase from April this year, and a lump-sum bribe of £500 that doesn’t get added to workers’ pay packets. Then workers will have to accept a measly 2 percent again next year.
Bosses have also agreed to a “profit sharing scheme,” where the first 20 percent of profits are shared out among workers as an annual bonus. But it’s a bribe—and all depends on whether the bosses are making profits at all. The pay deal alone is enough reason to reject the deal.
Even CWU leaders said that members “deserve more on pay than this settlement provides”.
Hundreds of reps and workers have been suspended or sacked since the dispute began last year. Their reinstatement is hugely important to every union activist, and every worker who looks to the union for support.
The sackings were a deliberate attempt to break the union, and there should be no agreement until every one of them is back at work. Instead, the agreement leaves their fate to a “review” by right wing Labour lord—and personal friend of Tony Blair—Lord Falconer. Falconer advised the coal bosses against the NUM union during the 1984-5 strike.
If he decides against a rep, the agreement says the union can no longer challenge the suspension or dismissal.
It’s on the union to defend its own reps and members—with walkouts and strikes if need be—not a right wing Lord.
The agreement promises “no compulsory redundancies” but only until April 2025. After that, there will be a “review” of that—where bosses will no doubt demand more job cuts.
Some jobs are already under threat, particularly in some of the airport workplaces, where bosses hope to cut mail flights. Workers there will either have to accept jobs elsewhere, or take voluntary redundancy.
Bosses also say they’re committed to the Universal Service Obligation. This means by law they’re required to provide letter delivery six days a week and parcels five days a week to all addresses. Ditching this would allow them to cut some deliveries and therefore jobs.
The agreement leaves them with the hope that one day they can get rid of it—hoping to “approach the government” with their “views on the future of the USO.”
The agreement lets bosses push on with plans to deliver larger parcels from dedicated “parcels hubs”. This takes work—and so jobs—away from delivery offices.
These parcel deliveries will be mostly in the afternoons—later than many workers want to work. Bosses and union officials are supposed to encourage workers from delivery offices to “follow the work” and take jobs in the parcels hubs. But if they can’t, or don’t want to, bosses can use “alternative resourcing models”—agencies.
The agreement says Royal Mail has “no plan to compete on the basis of becoming a gig economy employer.” But many of the changes push workers’ conditions closer towards that.
It introduces seasonal hours—where workers could work up to four hours longer in the winter than in the summer. Shifts will be pushed later in many workplaces—with the last letter delivery as late as 4:30pm, hugely disrupting workers’ lives.
Bosses also want to introduce a “rewards” scheme for certain parcels deliveries, where workers are paid for extra parcels they deliver. It raises the prospect of a model where workers could be paid a low basic salary and a minimum amount of parcels to deliver a day.
Then, if they want to earn a decent wage, they’ll have to deliver extra work, paid per delivery, similar to how workers in other gig-economy couriers are paid.
Bosses started recruiting new workers on worse terms and conditions in December last year. This essentially creates a two-tier workforce. That incentivises bosses to get rid of existing workers and replace them with newer ones.
The agreement accepts this. And while it says existing workers will not have to work Sundays if they don’t want to—and will keep Sunday bonus payments—new staff will have to work Sundays regularly.
Workers in the RCN nurses’ union and the UCU universities and colleges union have shown it’s possible to overturn deals recommended by union leaders. That required networks of resistance, spreading information and agitating for more action. It’s crucial that CWU members who don’t like this deal begin immediately to organise widely to defeat it.
I am disgusted by the complete surrender of our union leaders. Especially after the promises made earlier in the dispute, and Thompson has to be sacked. The letters are still not going out daily, in Cambridge.
Bosses are breaking the law, and enforcing changes in depots by enlarging rounds, changing hours all of which Dave Ward promised that we would not accept. Plus there’s a three-year deal where what’s on offer is less than the one-year deal we needed. Ward has to resign after this epic failure.
I’m a postman from Lancashire and I can assure you that, I and the majority of my colleagues in our delivery office are disgusted at the deal on offer. We will absolutely refuse this deal and have now lost all faith in the CWU top brass who in my opinion should take a pistol, go behind their offices and blow out what’s left of their brains.
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