Postal workers expose ‘dishonourable’ bosses – pay fight extends to Pathway to Change

Postal, Royal Mail Group (EMP)

CWU News looks back over an historic few days, as temperatures rose to unprecedented levels across the nation and the heat rose on Royal Mail too…

Following the 97.6 per cent YES vote announced earlier this week in the pay strike ballot, members will be receiving a new ballot paper next week, again asking for a YES vote – but this time to protect our recently agreed company-wide change programme.

Toasting Tuesday

It was on the day when the UK experienced its hottest-ever temperatures that the national briefing had been called to announce the pay vote result and to update and discuss the next steps. And, in the circumstances, attendance was understandably much reduced. But the cheers that greeted the news more than made up for the smaller numbers.

Our general secretary Dave Ward and our deputy general secretary postal Terry Pullinger each spoke to the assembled activists and then answered questions from them, setting out the reasons why strikes would not be called immediately and that it would be right to give the company an opportunity to think again on pay. But that, in the event of a clear refusal to budge – action would be called.

And the further point was made that the attitudes of senior company chiefs with regard to the Pathway to Change agreement was making a second, separate ballot on the defence of this agreement almost certain.

The company’s sudden turn towards a hostile attitude was, Dave Ward said: “Very difficult to understand. How did we get to this situation, with the same people in charge?” he wondered, expressing doubt as to the company’s rationality at this time.

 “Their strategy is not ‘modernisation’ it’s a levelling down. But you can’t run a business by putting workers at the bottom of the pile. This union has never faced away from change – but the Royal Mail Board must recognise that if they want to build the future of Royal Mail, they’ve got to get behind the workforce.

“We want to capture new parcel growth, minimise the decline of letters and expand the role of postal workers,” he continued, emphasising that, while parcel growth was obviously the right strategy – it must not be the company’s only strategy and highlighted the outstanding success of test kit collection and delivery during the pandemic as an example of a new work stream – making the point that the business should be actively seeking similar delivery and collection public service work going forward.

While test kit work has, of course, dropped off since the pandemic, there remains a widespread consensus that Royal Mail workers performed that task exceptionally well – in marked contrast to the strong criticism of TNT’s current handling of passport delivery services.

In his speech, Terry said that he shared the general secretary’s bemusement at the company leadership’s hostile attitude, saying: “The attack we’re under now has no rational explanation. Things were going well but then suddenly they disengaged.

“And nobody has explained why they’ve done that.”

As well as strongly criticising Royal Mail on pay, the DGSP also spelled out the dangers of various soundings and statements coming from the business which appear to directly contradict, or breach, the Pathway to Change agreement.

The company’s new agenda is, he told delegates: “Radical – a smokescreen for an attack on deliveries and on the USO. They don’t care about letters – just parcels” and he further warned that there were real fears that Royal Mail intended to create a two-tier workforce, with “the next generation of postal workers coming in on 10 per cent less.”

In response to questions about when action would be called over pay, Terry insisted that this dispute “is a marathon, not a sprint” and asked for “cool heads and steady hands.

“We would always offer the business the chance of talks before announcing action and we’ve got to think about what we’re doing strategically,” he explained.

“If this employer digs in, we could be having more industrial action than anyone anticipated.”

Both our general secretary and DGSP answered questions from the media in the press conference that followed, urging the company to come back to the negotiating table and also profusely thanking CWU members for, once again, delivering an astonishing ballot result – one which Terry suggested might well be the highest ever of its type.

The Morning after

Coincidentally, the CWU national briefing had taken place in the same city, York, as the Royal Mail AGM, which was scheduled for the next day and union activists gathered at the company’s riverside venue from breakfast time to welcome shareholders and send a message to the leadership.

And it was certainly a lively start to the day, with huge boards slamming ‘Royal Mail hypocrisy’ and exposing the enormous amounts being paid out to senior company bosses, and a musical playlist blaring out cheerful tunes – a mixture of new sounds and timeless classics, with The Strawbs’ 1970s hit ‘You Don’t Get Me I’m Part Of The Union’ reaching its rousing chorus just as Dave and Terry arrived at the impromptu protest.

Passers-by stopped to listen, parents out walking laughed as their children danced to the CWU playlist while they asked about the protest and expressed support for our union’s cause. Early-shift workers gave encouraging cheers and a construction crew on their way to site beeped their van’s horn as they drove past – one of them remarking to his workmate: ‘We should be going on strike as well!’ 

And it was Dave and Terry again who addressed the audience – speaking to our own reps and members of the public gathered at the roadside, while also addressing their remarks to shareholders arriving and those already inside.

Dave, pointing in turn to each of the senior Royal Mail leaders depicted on the boards, highlighted the large salaries, bonus payments and pay rises they had been awarded and then said: “We’re saying to shareholders, you shouldn’t be supporting what these people are doing and what they’re paying themselves and you should be getting behind the workforce.”

He also referenced the letter Royal Mail workers had started receiving through the post from CEO Simon Thompson, voicing scepticism at Mr Thompson’s claim in the letter that Royal Mail is ‘losing a million pounds a day’. 

“If there was any truth in that, why did they pay the shareholders £400m? Why did they choose to do that if they know all these things were going on?” Dave asked, going on to recall having had similar conversations with previous CEOs Adam Crozier and Moya Greene back when he had served as the union’s DGSP.

Terry also condemned the Thompson letter, saying that it “details what they want to put in as well. Not just no pay, but totally unacceptable changes.

“We’ve got an agreement. We only made it in 2021 and they should honour it. We’ve delivered more change than ever in a short period of time. We’ve embraced more automation.”

Describing the company’s behaviour as “an absolute disgrace,” our DGSP announced: “We will be giving them notice of a second ballot today – on those changes.”

  • Ballot papers will be dispatched on 27th July and voting will close on 17th August. The union will be asking members to vote YES.

Pathway to Change

On 16th March last year, after lengthy, detailed and comprehensive national negotiations, DGSP Terry Pullinger for the CWU and CEO Simon Thompson for the company jointly signed off the document Key Principles Framework Agreement – The Pathway To Change 2021.

As it states in its opening sentences…

‘We all know that our industry is in a time of unprecedented change and this brings with it enormous opportunities to achieve the ambitions of our previous agreements and deliver growth in customer services, jobs and revenue.
To make this happen we must now rebalance the focus and resources within the RMG operation from declining letters to a rapidly growing parcels market, creating a more efficient business that is better aligned to the changing needs of customers.’

…and so therefore this union needs no lectures from the Royal Mail senior leadership as to the nature of this current period, as to the changing needs of customers, as to what is necessary and as to what must be done.

Just below the Introduction, the first part ‘proper’ of the document begins by explaining that…

‘The key principles set out below will enable change to take place in a mutually beneficial way. These principles will shape our future and act as an ongoing reference point for the more detailed programme of work RMG and CWU will now jointly undertake.’

…and the document continues, through nine sub-sections, covering every function of the business, setting out how change is to be discussed, decided upon, implemented, deployed, reviewed and improved.

There is absolutely nothing among the various subject areas brought up by Royal Mail CEO Simon Thompson or Royal Mail Board chair Keith Williams in their statements this week that could not be raised, discussed and negotiated via the various mechanisms, protocols and joint working groups provided for within the existing agreement.

Improving efficiency, duty patterns, aligning resource to workload, rebalancing the operation towards parcels, technology deployment, for example, are all covered within Pathway to Change (PtC). Attendance too, is referenced as well, with the commitment that negotiations on this will continue and that mutual agreement will be sought.

It is because every conceivable aspect of change is comprehensively covered off within PtC that the union decided to hold the strike ballot solely on pay, arguing that, regardless of what the company wanted to propose in terms of operational issues, the PtC was the appropriate – and mutually agreed and mutually signed off – channel within which to deal with it.

However, it has been the company’s increasing hostility to the Key Principles of PtC – specifically its obligation on both sides to negotiate, discuss and agree change measures and most notably the beginnings of a return to imposed and unagreed change by executive action – that eventually forced the CWU to call the second ballot.

Vote YES to defend the Pathway to Change and its Key Principles