The ink was barely dry on the Four Pillars agreement when Rico Back was hired from Royal Mail’s European arm GLS as CEO back in June 2018. This signalled the end of Royal Mail’s support for the agreement, barely three months in. The Four Pillars was forced out of them by the threat of massive strike action, but Royal Mail bosses never accepted it, and immediately began to organise against it.
Back’s appointment signals a sea change in Royal Mail’s history, the chickens of the 2013 privatisation finally coming home to roost. GLS was a European network of relatively small parcel operations run on what we would now call the gig economy – the use of fake self-employment contracts, outsourcing to smaller, equally dodgy companies for further flexibility, low pay, long hours, no benefits, no union. The CWU has translated a documentary that exposes this “modern day slave labour.”
Now what was originally a marginal bolt-on to boost profits at Royal Mail Group has been catapulted to the top of the mother company, with the task of turning it inside out, downsizing it and busting the union to convert it into a GLS-style operation, and unleash the profits for shareholders on the backs of workers’ wages, conditions and jobs.
If you read between the lines of Royal Mail’s latest mailing to members, it confirms what the CWU has been warning us about Back’s plan:
Tens of Thousands of job losses
Start with cutting 8000 out of 58,000 duties, by taking oversized parcels off deliveries and delivering them with a separate operation in the afternoon. This means allowing the letters delivery to decline, so there is a steady loss of jobs.
It also means that the promise that all these changes will “secure the USO” ring hollow. In fact it is an open secret that Royal Mail hopes the Tories will oblige and cut the USO six day delivery obligation (up for review this year) – every day cut from the USO means up to 20,000 jobs going.
Royal Mail’s “promise” to “maintain current voluntary redundancy terms” or redeploy everyone, and so avoid compulsory redundancies, just can’t be true if the USO is cut – tellingly, they refuse again and again to commit to the six day USO.
Hike workload and Big brother bossing
Automation will slash jobs in mail centres and delivery offices further, while hiking the outdoor delivery span as indoor work decreases – the Four Pillars Agreement’s shorter working week (SWW) was meant in part to absorb these cuts to indoor work due to automation and avoid huge outdoor spans which will cripple many posties.
Electronic clock in and out cards allow Royal Mail to monitor people leaving the shopfloor in mail centres (and possibly delivery offices) to go to the toilet, get a quick vape or a cuppa, check whether they paid you OT or get your rain gear.
Meanwhile they are bringing in a new resourcing programme that will combine PDA and swipe card data to change resourcing plans seasonally or even more often, disrupting or eliminating duties, binning popular shift patterns that give staff more days off, and eliminating overtime – hitting part-timers hardest.
Their claims to want “fairer workloads” is a nice way to justify “annual revisions” that rip out hours and hike everyone’s workload.
Two tier workforce and union busting
The shorter working week was also intended to eliminate the two-tier workforce that had developed since 2003, with part-timers and full-time staff on the same pension and converging at the 35 hour week in 2023.
Royal Mail refused to take another hour off last October, but now with the ballot on, they are trying to save face by vaguely saying they might do it if they can afford it in the future (don’t hold your breath).
The Four Pillars barred zero hours contracts full stop, the current promise of “no zero hours contracts for permanent staff” just means they will use temps or hire new starters on zero hours contracts, and create an even greater divide in the workforce, undermining current part-timers too.
Royal Mail wants to change the industrial relations framework so after token disagreement by the union they can just go ahead and impose whatever changes they want in the future – the last protection of workers in the workplace.
Royal Mail claims they support the USO, that we won’t “join the gig economy”, or outsource “core operational units”. But they won’t commit to the 6 day USO, they already run the gig economy in Europe and in London with their e-courier self-employed workforce, and they will decide what is and isn’t a core unit in their future plans – certainly scores of delivery offices and many mail centres will close or be flogged off.
In a way, it doesn’t matter what they promise. Once they bust our union, they don’t need to stick to anything they’ve said – there is no law that says they have to, and there won’t be any force to stop them.
That’s where 120,000 postal workers come in, as the force that can stop them, now.