By Nick Clark
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Workers’ anger forces Royal Mail bosses into retreat

This article is over 4 years, 2 months old
Issue 2703
Royal Mail workers at a CWU gate meeting earlier this year
Royal Mail workers at a CWU gate meeting earlier this year (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Royal Mail bosses have backed off from a major attack on jobs and working conditions.

The workers’ CWU union announced on Friday that Royal Mail’s chief executive had made significant concessions over a move to scrap letters deliveries on Saturdays. The change would have had a big impact on workers’ shifts and time off, and a step towards changes that could cost 20,000 jobs.

But after the threat of national strikes and widespread unofficial walkouts, bosses backed off. One CWU rep told Socialist Worker that workers “feel like they’ve won—and the managers have their heads in their hands.”

Bosses announced on Tuesday that they plan to temporarily suspend letters deliveries on Saturdays, with changes to shift patterns starting from Monday 11 May. This would mean forcing through later working hours on weekdays, and major disruptive changes to workers’ scheduled days off.

The plans were also announced without talking to workers or the CWU—and provoked a huge backlash, with the union threatening to call national strikes.

It also told its members not to cooperate with changes to shifts and working patterns—which would have caused clashes with managers likely to result in unofficial walkouts.

There were already reports of unofficial walkouts over changes in workplaces such as a delivery office in Newbury.

Facing widespread strikes, chief executive Rico Back told CWU leaders that changes to working hours would now only be voluntary and to be agreed by union reps.

He also said the suspension of letters deliveries would only last six weeks, and be reviewed every fortnight.

Royal Mail workers: fighting a package of attacks
Royal Mail workers: fighting a package of attacks
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Mark Dolan, a CWU rep in north London, told Socialist Worker, “It’s a massive climbdown by Royal Mail, and a battle won. The difference between what Royal Mail said at the start of the week and now is huge.”

He said, “Time off arrangements are really precious to people. They’ve been coming to work during the coronavirus outbreak, often in places where there’s no proper social distancing or protective equipment. Then they’re told they’ll lose their rolling day off, or one week off in six.

“We’ve now had it confirmed that’s not happening.”

Mark added that the threat of action by workers had made the difference—and could have pushed MPs and the government to step in.  CWU general secretary Dave Ward said “the penny dropped” with the government “that what Royal Mail had done needed to be tempered.”

Mark said, “Places like Newbury are a gauge for how the members were feeling.

“Come 11 May we would have been on unofficial industrial action. People would have been suspended and it would have been unofficial up and down the country.”

But he added, “The war is far from won”.

Back still wants to push ahead with plans to break up Royal Mail into a profitable parcels company and a reduced letters service.

After this week’s climbdown, he’s offered new talks to the CWU over the long-running dispute. The result shows it’s the threat of action—not just talks—that can stop his plans.

“That’s the power that workers have got at the coalface,” said Mark.

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