While the ballot is on hold, postal workers’ health concerns have come to the fore as offices in Bridgewater and Alloa walk out.

At the online meeting on 18 March announcing a massive yes vote in our industrial action ballot, CWU leaders Terry Pullinger and Dave Ward announced the union would not be declaring a strike.  Instead they planned to put a radical sounding proposal to Royal Mail: the union would agree to jointly run an emergency service to get medical and other crucial supplies out to the public. The condition was they withdrew their imposed “executive action” making cuts in offices and agreed to serious talks to resolve the dispute.

That strategy has failed.

CWU leaders have changed the message since under massive pressure from members, to focus on Royal Mail’s refusal to take health and safety of staff seriously. Royal Mail, a big international company, refused to take the issue of Covid-19 seriously, with completely inadequate provision of PPE and social-distancing, and no guarantees of sick pay for those with symptoms or vulnerable conditions.  

Lockdown or keeping costs down?

Royal Mail’s policy has stuck to the minimum declared by the government, which is also inadequate, making workers pay for corona closures and absence.  Postal bosses want to use the company’s status as a “key service” to keep making as much money as possible to offset their sick bill. CWU Acting Assistant Sec Carl Maden admits, “Royal Mail are looking at this from a cost perspective not a health perspective”. So why hasn’t the union gone public and condemned it for putting costs before staff health and that of the public? 

The union has forced some concessions out of Royal Mail, for instance full sick pay for those who have been employed less than 12 months, who were previously on worse conditions.  Royal Mail has given some ground since, for instance allowing vulnerable staff members such as those with medical conditions to self-isolate for 12 weeks with pay. But some workers still won’t get full pay if they go off sick, nor will those forced to self-isolate due to family members’ symptoms.

And there is a bigger issue at stake now. Staff risk contracting this dangerous virus, working in crowded offices and then out delivering to the public. But the stuff being delivered is ordinary mail and piles of “door to doors” – junk mail that has no social value. 

Royal Mail spin has added insult to injury, declaring it is putting “our people first” without any real effort put in to get PPE then issuing two-page guidance on how to organise junk mail deliveries!

Our lives are worth more than junk mail!

As the Johnson government belatedly hikes testing, it has split test distribution between Royal Mail with Amazon.  Meanwhile Royal Mail refuses to talk about an emergency service and executive action, which hasn’t been mentioned since the 18th.

Who wants to risk their life for pizza leaflets?  The union should declare that staff will not do junk mail, and only organise emergency cover for medical mailings, tests and parcels as well as other clearly marked necessities. Workers should take turns providing a skeleton staff with the full PPE needed should do this, while the rest should be off work and staying safe on full pay.  

Bridgwater postal workers have already walked out on the 23rd against inadequate safety measures followed by Alloa workers on 31st protesting not just the lack of PPE but also Royal Mail’s insistence that we continue to deliver junk mail. Staff in other firms in Britain and in other countries hit by the virus and bosses’ indifference to safety, from Italy to the USA, have used wildcat action to protest unsafe or inessential work.  Where PPE is still inadequate, or junk mail a concern, postal workers should follow their lead and walk out – the union has said it will defend those who refuse to work in unsafe conditions.

Postal workers are being praised in the press as “heroes”, and most would accept taking the risks to provide a genuine emergency service, but the truth is Royal Mail is not being run that way. Bosses are more than happy to keep us working as normal and keep a lid on costs till the crisis is over. Then they will argue that the company is in the red and they need to press ahead with their plans to rip up our jobs and conditions.  

The CWU has written a letter to the government and Royal Mail demanding an emergency service, which should be supported but is too little and late.  The CWU, TUC and Labour Party should demand Royal Mail’s network is requisitioned and run as a genuine i.e. non-profit emergency service under workers control, nationalised without a penny in profit for the millionaires who own it.