Protecting members’ earnings and ensuring compliance

CWU and Royal Mail’s respective legal advisers are set to meet each other to compare interpretations of working time legislation, after complex discussions with the business on working hours among Royal Mail night workers reached an impasse.

The working time directive (WTD), which was introduced across all European Union member states back in 1998, applies a general upper limit of 48 hours work per week, but most workers have also been able to voluntarily opt-out of this and several sectors of the economy have had partial exemptions from WTD as well.

A degree of flexibility is allowed within the WTD regulations – for example, there are circumstances in which the 48 hours can be exceeded in a particular week, as long as 48-hour weekly average over a specified longer period is adhered to.

“In Royal Mail, We’ve managed to work with the business in the interests of our members to ensure that appropriate overtime allocation and payment can meet the demands of the operation and maintain compliance with the law,” said Terry.

“So it’s a great shame – and quite ironic in the circumstances – that someone in the company should decide that now is the time for a unit-by-unit WTD compliance audit.”

Assisted by postal executive members Mick Kavanagh and Steve Haliwell, the CWU has been in detailed discussions with the business seeking to maximise the flexibility that is possible within the law in order to protect members’ current earnings and minimise the use of casual agency labour within the company.

The impasse that has been reached relates to the company’s claim – which it insists is based on its own legal advice – that night workers cannot voluntarily opt-out from WTD, while the union’s legal advice is that, although the law may not permit this on an individual basis, it can be done through a collective agreement.

“We’ve asked if the two legal teams can meet face-to-face to see if some common ground can be reached on this,” Terry explains, adding: “In the meantime, we’re continuing our efforts to maximise our own members’ interests within the context of where we do have some common ground – and there has been a degree of progress here.”

The UK is currently scheduled to formally depart from the EU on March 31 2019 and all existing EU legislation will immediately pass into UK law, including workplace regulations such as WTD.

Any subsequent changes to this body of law will be a matter for the UK Parliament, through the appropriate UK legislative procedures.

“If WTD is to change in the future, perhaps this may be our opportunity to clarify that negotiated agreements between unions and employers can have a legal priority status,” suggested Terry, “but in the meantime, the CWU and Royal Mail will of course work together to ensure legal compliance.

“And our number one priority will remain seeking to protect our members’ earnings, jobs and job security and minimising as far as possible the use of third-party agency labour.”