Roy Mayall on why the new agreement between the CWU and Royal Mail is bad for workers and bad for customers.
According to the official communiques, both sides in the postal workers' dispute are delighted with the complex deal that has been ironed out over the past weeks. The CWU is calling it a 6.9% pay rise over three years; the management is hailing the agreement as opening the way to "transformation" of the business. But before they vote for it, Royal Mail staff should read the small print of the 80-page document. I had the opportunity to pore over a leaked draft version, and in my view, whatever is being said about it by senior officials, this deal does not deliver.
Let me explain. There are two blocks of flats, with boxes in the hall, on my postal round. We deliver the mail to the boxes rather than to the flats: 12 boxes in each block. I usually drop the "door-to-door" off on a Monday, three items per household, 36 items to each block. This is the unaddressed mail, also known as "household" or "junk mail". By the time I get back to the blocks on a Tuesday morning, both halls are swimming in the stuff. It's all over the floor, pretty well all 72 items. People collect their mail in the evening, pick out the door-to-door and drop it on the floor. This is just one illustration of how much people dislike the stuff.
Currently, the cap on the number of door-to-door items is three per household. But with the ratification of the new agreement between the Communications Workers Union (CWU) and the Royal Mail, that cap will be lifted. The agreement doesn't specify how many there could be. Six items, eight items, maybe more. It could be limitless.
Presently, we are paid per item, depending on the weight. We get a minimum of 1.67p per item, rising to 4.5p. This figure has stayed the same for the last 10 years. I have about 600 delivery points on my round, so at the minimum rate I currently take home about £30 for my door-to-door deliveries.
The new agreement will incorporate the door-to-door into our normal workload, so we will no longer be paid per item. Instead, we are to get a weekly supplement. According to my leaked copy of the agreement – now confirmed – that figure will be £20.60. That is inclusive of the early shift allowance, which is also due to be phased out. In other words, it's a pay cut.
It's even worse for part-timers. The figure is pro-rata. So a part-timer doing a four-hour duty will be getting £10.30, instead of the £30 he currently gets for taking out twice as much stuff, while at the same time receiving half the money of a full-timer doing exactly the same amount of work.
This is just one of the many benefits on offer in the new agreement, which has been reached after over three months of intensive negotiations between the CWU and Royal Mail. Other examples include longer Saturdays, traditionally a light day for Royal Mail employees so they can go home early and enjoy the vestiges of the weekend with their families. Along with later start times, due to be rolled out over the entire week, this will mean that some postal workers will still be out on the streets on a Saturday as late as 4pm. So much for the "family-friendly" policies the agreement also trumpets, or its commitment to reduction in stress and fatigue.
The clever thing about the agreement is that it disguises some of its worst aspects in a language that is so dense and impenetrable that it is difficult, at first, to know what it means. Take this, for instance:
"Royal Mail and CWU agree that the length of delivery span can be an enabler in bringing about mutual benefits. From now on, within the process of duty revision negotiations, spans must be looked at in the context of an enabler rather than a fixed amount of time to be aimed at."
It takes a certain amount of literary interpretation to grasp that what that means is longer delivery spans. Again, the agreement doesn't specify how long. Current delivery spans are meant to be 3.5 hours – which usually mean between four and 4.5 hours – a period of time of intense physical activity that the former Royal Marine and British military fitness expert Tony Goddard described as "unreasonable" on a Panorama programme last year.
More time on duty and more weight to carry are just two of the results of this deal, and all for less pay. Also hidden away in its gothic density is a massive real-estate bonanza for the private sector, as delivery offices in prime city-centre locations become "rationalised". It's no wonder the negotiations have been kept strictly confidential.
The "sweetener" for this will be a lump sum of £1,000 – actually, just the yearly "colleague-share" bonus moved forward a month or two; again, pro-rata for part-timers. So a full-timer can vote away his part-time colleague's wages for what amounts to a lump sum he was already due to receive anyway.
Reading the agreement, you get the feeling that its only real purpose has been to cement the union's position in the workplace. In order to achieve this, the union has had to swallow its pride and assume the role of cheerleader for Royal Mail's modernisation objectives.
"Modernisation" in this case is a euphemism. It means siphoning off profits to the private sector.