Is the Government pressuring employers to keep pay low?

Royal Mail Group (EMP)

As members’ anger over pay mounts, our deputy general secretary Terry Pullinger asks if Royal Mail’s irrational wages policy and provocative industrial relations attitude may be rooted in external political pressures…

“Do you honestly believe that it’s a massive leap in conspiracy to ask if the Government has called in these big companies – especially where we’re unionised – and said to them:’ Don’t you go dishing out great big pay rises to these people. Don’t you start doing that’,” suggested our DGSP to a packed meeting of frontline CWU representatives in central London yesterday.

With this year’s pay dispute rapidly escalating towards a nationwide strike ballot, the CWU’s Postal leadership held the first two of three mass briefings this week to update our activists as to the latest state of play and to hear their collective feedback. Yesterday’s gathering in the capital saw hundreds of activists from our London, South East, Central and Anglia divisions pack into Conway Hall, following on from Monday’s upbeat Birmingham meeting of Midlands, South Wales and South West reps.

Next Monday, CWU reps from Scotland, Northern Ireland, the North East and the North West will head to Liverpool for the third part of the UK tour and, if the first two events are anything to go by, it will be a lively day on Merseyside.

There is no doubting the anger of CWU Royal Mail members at the company’s attitude and behaviour towards them and judging by the feelings expressed in London and Birmingham and also from the hundreds of workplace ‘gate’ meetings around the country over the past couple of weeks, if a pay strike ballot is called, a big YES vote is looking increasingly likely.

RPI inflation 11% – CPI inflation 9% – Royal Mail offer 2% ‘with strings’

Opening proceedings, Terry clarified where we currently are with Royal Mail, confirming that the company has offered a derisory pay increase of 2 per cent, linked to the union’s agreement to reduced sick pay, flat-rate Sunday working, increased productivity and lower pay grades for new starters – a position that, our DGSP confirmed again, had been “rejected immediately” by the CWU.

An agenda such as this contrasts sharply with the rising levels of inflation and fails to recognise the exceptional contribution our members – along with other key workers – made to the nation’s wellbeing during the pandemic. A “double insult” to the many tens of thousands of employees up and down the country.

“They’ve offered you absolutely nothing – and you can see how disgraceful it is,” he said.

Royal Mail Group profits £758m

And this double insult is further compounded by the extraordinary amounts of money being made by the company, which recently reported Group-wide profits of £758 million, a figure which Terry described as a remarkable turnaround from previous “forecasts of a £500 to £600 loss.”

In his speech and in the presentations from the panel of national Postal officers, it was made clear, repeatedly, that the reason for this upturn in the company’s fortunes was due to the efforts of frontline CWU members, who battled on against the odds throughout the most difficult and most challenging period this country has seen for many decades.

At both briefings, Terry thanked CWU members for their extraordinary dedication to the public and for their service, praising frontline workplace reps in particular, describing this role as “the hardest job to do” and, speaking on behalf of the union’s elected leadership, he added: “As a leadership, we salute you. We respect you.”

‘£500m paid out to shareholders since July 2021’

Even more infuriating to members are reports of huge payouts to private shareholders, according to Terry, who said: “There’s been £500m paid since last July to shareholders, with potentially another £130m for them this coming August,” and added: “They just want to stuff the pockets of the shareholders. But we want our members to get their fair share of that profit – and the shareholders and the board need to know that. Our members deserve a fair pay rise.”

The union will strictly maintain its ‘no strings’ position with regards to this pay negotiation, he insisted, explaining that there is already a fully agreed, comprehensive package of change-measures within the Pathway to Change national agreement – an agreement which was only introduced last year and on which the union has already delivered its commitments.

This was and remains the appropriate forum to discuss change issues, Terry reaffirmed, adding that the current dispute is solely about pay and the union’s position is for a “straightforward pay rise with no strings attached.”

Members across all Royal Mail functions united behind their union

Each of the other national Postal officers – Mark Baulch, Davie Robertson, Andy Furey and Carl Maden each spoke to the briefings as well – each of them outlining the situation within their specific areas of responsibility and of the importance for reps of continuing their excellent mobilising and organising work across the country, keeping members updated, informed and ready and prepared to fight for the fair pay rise that the workforce deserves.

Mark praised delivery members for going above and beyond the call of duty so often and providing a real community service to the nation, accused company bosses of “treating our members insultingly” and vowed: “Our members deserve better – we can do this and we can win this dispute. This union is at its best when we stand together and fight,” while Davie recalled: “In the first lockdown, people were genuinely scared – but our members carried on working.” Davie sharply criticised the Royal Mail leadership for seeking “a race to the bottom” in pay, terms and conditions (which will also apply to our members in Parcelforce) as well as service standards and that the ‘strings’ attached to the current pay offer were tantamount to a “surrender” by the union.

“The only way to change their position is for us all to stand together,” he urged.

Carl Maden spoke about how members in Fleet and Engineering were equally adamant to achieve the pay rise that they deserve – while also making strong points about the company’s unfair attitudes towards members’ pay in comparison to their prioritising of shareholders’ interests, and he also updated the briefing on RMPFS negotiations, which are taking place separately to the rest of Royal Mail Group.

After stressing the importance of making sure members in Royal Mail’s Customer Experience, MDECs and other HR and Admin functions are fully engaged and involved in this dispute and encouraged to cast their votes, Andy Furey reminded the meeting that his Post Office members are set for their second bout of strike action over pay this coming weekend, with Crown offices taking action on Saturday (4th June) and their Supply Chain and Admin colleagues hitting the picket lines on Monday (6th June), sparking a lively round of applause from the audience in support and solidarity. Andy also updated the meeting on pay talks currently under way with Capita TVL under the auspices of independent arbitration service ACAS.

From the floor – determination and unity

At both venues, reps took the opportunity to put their questions, comments and points of view to Terry and the other officers, with many expressing the strong feelings from their own members back home, the hardships they are currently experiencing and the deep need for a pay rise. One rep talked of colleagues coming close to needing food banks because of the sharp rise on the cost of living, while another pointed out that, with the various ‘strings’, the current Royal Mail offer would leave most of his members financially worse off than they are now.

“Members are angry” was a common theme, while there were also several references to the company having a “debt of honour” to the workforce because of the heroic efforts of postal workers during the pandemic and other contributors highlighted the number of other disputes currently taking place over pay – within the CWU and among other trade unions as well – and suggested efforts at mutual support and solidarity.

P&O outrage ‘inspiring’ bosses’ provocative attitudes

There were several references at both briefings to the outrageous actions of the shipping company P&O back in March, when some 800 seafarers and ships officers were summarily sacked and it was suggested that leaders of other companies – including Royal Mail – had been tempted to adopt a similar attitude towards their workforce.

Terry commented: “My honest opinion is, that business leaders in boardrooms across this country were proud of P&O. I think they thought: ‘That’s the way to deal with them. That’s the way to deal with a trade union’. But they waited to see whether the Government was going to intervene – because P&O clearly broke the law – and…nothing, nothing.

“They’ve inspired businesses to bring it on on workers – and certainly unionised organisations.”

And responding to the comments on other current pay disputes taking place, Terry said that there were similarities between the Royal Mail and Post Office and BT/Openreach disputes – as well as with what is happening in the UK’s railways. In all of these instances there are recurring key issues, he commented, citing “the same language, the same narrative” and, considering whether there might be external political pressures being brought to bear on these companies, he asked: “Do you honestly believe that it’s a massive leap in conspiracy to ask if the Government has called in every one of these big companies – especially where we’re unionised – and said to them:’ Don’t you go dishing out great big pay rises to these people. Don’t you start doing that’.”

  • Look out for news from Terry on any latest developments 
  • If you missed the live broadcasts from the briefings, catch up here 
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