Postal strike nonsense

From reading media reports over the past few days about the forthcoming national strike of postal workers called by the CWU trade union, planned for October 22 and 23, it’s hard to understand the logic of such a move.

Some reports say the strike will cost the country billions. Other reports talk about the Royal Mail planning to hire 30,000 temps for the Christmas mail period.

It’s a complicated picture to do with massive change in an old industry involving postal workers’ pay, conditions and reforms to a business trying to find a place in the new world of “more digital and less analogue.”

Yet while the posturing of the union leader Billy Hayes, and combative responses from Royal Mail chief executive Adam Crozier, continue amid no direct communication to find a solution, thousands of businesses and individuals are finding alternative services to send and receive their products and letters – and plenty of businesses are there to offer their alternative services. Courier firm TNT is lobbying to get government permission to set up a rival postal service.

Are people likely to go back to the Royal Mail when this is all over and the dust settles? Assuming there still is a viable Royal Mail some will no doubt, but if this strike does go ahead – and the union is saying they plan to call for more strikes – surely it will accelerate the demise of a national postal service as we have known it. Maybe that is an inevitability at some point.

Still, this strike at this time makes little sense to me less than 70 days before Christmas, other than as arm-twisting by the union. There’s certainly nothing in it for customers and little that I can see for Royal Mail employees.

Here’s my suggestion: Messrs Hayes and Crozier, get yourselves into a room together and don’t come out again until you’ve solved this. While you’re talking, no strike.

Surely it can be that simple?

[Photo credit: Thomas Hawk]

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. Rob Raikes

    I believe the Union has tried to discuss matters with Management, but the latter are not interested, as they are marching to Mandelson’s privatisation tune. The extent to which they are willing to go can be guaged from an article by a postman in the London Review of Books of the 28th of September, which outlines the goalpost shifting that Royal mail have been getting up to.
    I can forward you the link.

    • neville

      Well, that’s one opinion. And I haven’t heard Mandelson’s privatization tune. Can you hum it? ;)

      I don’t see this as one side said/did this, the other said said/did that, etc. too black and white where this is all about shades of grey. Both sides are responsible for where things have got to today. Both sides can solve it if they really want to.

      Two dinosaurs, and the outcome won’t be pretty. Severe change is inevitable in their business.

  2. Allan Jenkins

    Doesn’t the British government have the right to impose a “cooling off period” when the strike affects the national economy? That’s avoided several big strikes in the US (though it has been many years since it has been used).

    • Martin Kilgariff

      Excellent article at http://www.lrb.co.uk/v31/n18/maya01_.html especially the assertion about the fiddling of the figures:

      The truth is that the figures aren’t down at all. We have proof of this. The Royal Mail have been fiddling the figures. This is how it is being done.

      Mail is delivered to the offices in grey boxes. These are a standard size, big enough to carry a few hundred letters. The mail is sorted from these boxes, put into pigeon-holes representing the separate walks, and from there carried over to the frames. This is what is called ‘internal sorting’ and it is the job of the full-timers, who come into work early to do it. In the past, the volume of mail was estimated by weighing the boxes. These days it is done by averages. There is an estimate for the number of letters that each box contains, decided on by national agreement between the management and the union. That number is 208. This is how the volume of mail passing through each office is worked out: 208 letters per box times the number of boxes. However, within the last year Royal Mail has arbitrarily, and without consultation, reduced the estimate for the number of letters in each box. It was 208: now they say it is 150. This arbitrary reduction more than accounts for the 10 per cent reduction that the Royal Mail claims is happening nationwide.

      Doubting the accuracy of these numbers, the union ordered a random manual count to be undertaken over a two-week period in a number of offices across the region. Our office was one of them. On average, those boxes which the Royal Mail claims contain only 150 letters, actually carry 267 items of mail. This, then, explains how the Royal Mail can say that the figures are down, although every postman knows that volume is up. The figures are down all right, but only because they have been manipulated.

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