Grim determination & solid unity among CWU Royal Mail repsPostal, Royal Mail Group (EMP) July 28 2023
Union at all levels must ‘take ownership’ of the new national agreement and make sure the employer honours its commitments…
Hundreds of CWU divisional, branch, area and workplace representatives gathered in Leeds earlier this week for the union’s first national Royal Mail briefing since the Business Recovery, Transformation & Growth (BRTG) ballot result. Speeches from our general secretary Dave Ward, acting deputy general secretary postal (DGSP) Andy Furey and national officers Mark Baulch, Davie Robertson and Carl Maden were interspersed with 22 questions, comments and points of view from the speakers from the floor – as the union continued to collectively rebuild and reorganise for the challenging period ahead.
‘We are still here, we need to shape the change’
Dave Ward echoed the defiant banner headline of the Summer Edition of The Voice magazine, saying: “The CWU is still here,” as he opened the event, welcoming delegates and giving a wide-ranging speech which presented a broad overview of the current situation within Royal Mail Group. The company’s financial position remained “perilous” and the decision to accept the BRTG agreement had been the right one in the circumstances, he continued, praising CWU reps and members for their courageous stance during the dispute, saying: “This dispute was fought to the bitter end,” but adding that “it nearly was the end for Royal Mail.”
The jeopardy into which the business had been placed had been entirely due to the recklessness and mismanagement by those at the top of the company during the dispute period, a leadership who our general secretary slammed as being “incompetent.” Dave went on to express the union’s hope that a new leadership at Royal Mail would result in change for the better and that the key task for the CWU was now to “to step up, take ownership of this agreement and to make it work for our members, with our ideas coming to the fore.”
Updating the audience on the most recent meetings with company bosses, our general secretary referred to the current controversies over the promised £500 lump-sum payment and the business’s incorrect application of the sick absence policy and explained how the union’s senior leadership continues to pressure the company to do the right thing in both instances. It was also important, he added, that reps fully explained these issues to members at their workplaces as part of the overall push to ensure that Royal Mail fully meets all of its BRTG commitments.
Building further on the theme of taking ownership of the agreement, and moving onto the difficult subject of delivery revisions, Dave said it was vital that our reps play a proactive role in operational change. In particular, reps need to come forward with their own proposals for improving quality of service, resourcing and duty patterns.
“We need divisional, area and local reps to be saying: ‘This is where we want to go with these changes’,” he said, and then talked in detail about the challenges of recruiting new starters into the CWU and achieving fairer terms and conditions for them, as well as the crucial agenda of growing the business, including developing and expanding the role of postal workers.
Acting DGSP Andy Furey also began by thanking reps for their support and welcomed the BRTG ballot result, commenting that the scale of turnout (67 per cent) and proportion of ‘Yes’ voters (75 per cent) had both been higher than the pre-ballot debate on social platforms had indicated.
Andy re-emphasised the fact that the union has not agreed to the reduced terms and conditions given to new employees and said that the union is pushing the company to bring new employees up to the same level as the existing workforce. But as well as putting pressure on the business, the union also should prioritise recruiting new employees into the CWU as well, the acting DGSP stressed, saying: “We’ve got to engage with new starters, seek to bring them into union membership and get back to what we do best – engaging directly, face-to-face.
“We’ve got to re-invigorate our workplace organisation. This is about us re-invigorating, going again, moving on and using the Industrial Relations (IR) Framework to challenge unacceptable proposals and to counter-propose.”
CWU reps: You are the warriors, resisting the attacks
The first set of contributions from the audience reflected several of the key points Dave and Andy had made, the £500 payment, sick absence policy and recruiting new employees into the union. Others talked about how the recent period had been extremely difficult for reps. Some cited negativity towards the union and towards themselves on social platforms as examples of how challenging it was to be a rep at this time.
One rep in particular received loud applause when he appealed for unity across the union, saying: “Whether you voted ‘No’ or voted ‘Yes’, there’s only one enemy and it’s not in this room.”
National officers Mark Baulch, Davie Robertson and Carl Maden took their turns at the speaker’s rostrum next, each of them detailing specific issues within their respective areas of responsibility. Mark, as outdoor secretary, urged reps to be vigilant in ensuring the company fully complies with its BRTG commitments and that they should make use of the industrial relations (IR) procedure where there are breaches by the business. On revision activity, Mark made the point that by engaging actively with positive proposals, it is possible for reps to achieve better outcomes for members as well as improvements in quality of service. And he talked in more detail about the work of promoting and expanding the role of the Royal Mail delivery worker and the importance of the joint working group (JWG) that has been set up for this purpose. “Together we can move forward,” he told the meeting, adding: “If we stick to the plan we can overcome.”
Davie said that the company is “taking liberties” in processing, “playing fast and loose” with existing procedures and continuing to take executive action. The union, at all levels, had “been through a bruising 18 months, but we have an agreement and members have voted for it. Now we need to move on.” He added that the union must hold the company to account and, like Mark, he also recommended the full use of the IR procedure in response to BRTG breaches. As well as most of the non-delivery Royal Mail functions, Davie’s responsibilities also include Parcelforce Worldwide (PFW) members and he commented on the union’s success on resisting the PFW leadership’s plan to move to a gig-economy model – but added that CWU had to keep up its organisational strength. “Let’s rally again, take the fight to the employer and stand up for our members,” he concluded.
A second open session followed the officers’ speeches and these contributions also featured several questions and comments on the new sick absence policy, with others asking about quality of service, customer service points (CSPs), resourcing and delivery revisions. One rep made the point that the company was on the one hand employing more and more managers, but on the other hand claiming that it could not afford to fill frontline vacancies in delivery, saying: “They need to recruit more people at the coalface – it’s only way we’re going to meet quality of service standards.”
Another contributor made the point that “we can’t underestimate the anger among our members” and that the CWU needs to argue the union’s position more strongly in response to Royal Mail’s announcements, while another spoke about the attacks that had been made by critics on social platforms and was applauded when he told the room: “You are the warriors – not those who hide behind their own keyboards.”
Supporting branches, standing up for members, fighting for justice
Carl Maden replied to some of the points made about the company’s recent actions over attendance procedures and sick absence, saying: “We’re not underestimating the anger that’s out there among members. We’re angry in the room when we’re talking to the business – they’re using this deliberately to try and turn us against each other.”
As well as being CWU national officer for Royal Mail Fleet and Royal Mail Engineering members (as well as RMPFS Engineers) Carl also has Royal Mail-wide responsibility for attendance, discipline and grievance issues and at the Leeds briefing he said that there were further meetings planned with the company on attendance and sick absence. But he added that the Postal Executive has resolved to support branches that request Rule 13 industrial action ballots in response to BRTG breaches.
Andy Furey confirmed that the Postal Executive will support branch’s Rule 13 ballot requests “if it’s in defence of the BRTG agreement” and then he gave the room an update on the latest situation with the Lord Falconer Review of dispute-related disciplinary cases.
Two dismissals of representatives from 2022 have been overturned at the National Appeals Panel (NAP) level, Andy reported, but the company is seeking to impose compulsory transfers outside of the NAP verdicts and the CWU has raised those cases with Lord Falconer. Royal Mail is also challenging a significant number of the referred cases on the basis that the business claims that these did not arise from the national dispute. Overall, the review is “a massive undertaking, with a lot of work involved,” our acting DGSP explained, “and huge thanks to Postal Executive member Rob Wotherspoon for his hard work on this.
“We’re doing everything we can to achieve justice for our members and representatives.”
‘We never lose our values – the values of solidarity’
Appropriately, our general secretary gave the closing speech of the day, which he began by saying: “We need to come away from here with a new mindset. The deal is in and we need to focus on making it work for our members. That means putting forward our own ideas on attendance patterns, revisions proposals and how we grow the business.”
As well as reengaging with our branches and members and continuing to critique the mistakes made by Royal Mail, the union needs to set out its own agenda, Dave continued, saying: “It’s our job to come up with solutions to the many challenges our members and Royal Mail face.”
Concluding, Dave told delegates: “As a trade unionist, you can go through the hardest battles of your life, but what makes you stay the course is that you have values different to the employers sitting opposite.
“They can throw whatever they want, but we never lose our values – the values of solidarity.”