TWO YEARS AFTER securing a nine-to- one Yes vote on a remarkable 73% turnout, the CWU is again balloting more than 100,000 members across Royal Mail for strike action. The legally stipulated postal ballot opens on 24th September and closes on 8th October. While the 2017 vote didn’t lead to an actual strike, the threat of action appeared to extract some significant concessions from bosses at the FTSE-250 company, which was privatised in 2013.
Now the company’s chief executive, Rico Back, stands accused of reneging on the deal, which settled the previous dispute, with previous moves to reduce the full-time working week to 35 hours by 2022 now halted.
The Back regime is also threatening the break-up of the Royal Mail group of companies with the future of the lucrative Parcelforce Worldwide component at stake. Under current proposals Parcelforce would become a separate limited company with the existing workforce transferring under TUPE regulations, which offer no protection to future recruits and can be readily scrapped on the grounds of a supposed ‘economic, technical or organisational’ rationale. There can be no doubt that Back’s objective is to slash labour costs.
The controversial Back, already notorious for his confrontational management style at the helm of the Royal Mail subsidiary, General Logistics Systems, assumed the corporate reins across the business as a whole in June 2018. He received a ‘golden hello’ with an estimated value of some £5.8 million on succeeding Moya Green, who had overseen the 2013 privatisation process, but didn’t quite live up to her unionbusting reputation from Canada. She still received a farewell payment of £900,000 on her retirement last year.
According to the union’s deputy General Secretary for Royal Mail, Terry Pullinger, Rico Back told him, “I’m CEO of this company so I’ll do what I want, and the union can deal with the consequences.” He has allegedly purged senior managers associated with the negotiation of the 2017 ‘Four Pillars Agreement’. Little wonder, then, that Pullinger has advised members that they are in for “the fight of their lives”.
Anecdotal evidence from CWU workplace reps indicates that Back’s autocratic style has licensed a tyrannical reign by local managers in sorting and delivery offices with frequent complaints of bullying, increases in workload and arbitrary sackings sparking an upsurge in wildcat walkouts and canteen sit-ins.
Senior management plans evidently include the removal of large parcel operations from delivery offices, which poses a threat to their viability and would spell large-scale job losses. There is also speculation about the future of the Universal Service Obligation, which is supposed to guarantee delivery to homes and businesses six days a week throughout the UK, though it has already been scrapped on the Isle of Man.
Since announcing the intention to ballot for action, the CWU leadership has launched something of a social media blitz on Facebook and Twitter, while a number of workplace reps have organised membership meetings at office gates to build for a Yes vote. The CWU shares with the UCU the distinction of beating the notorious 50% threshold for participation in a national strike ballot, which was imposed by the Tories’ 2016 legislation. There is good reason to think that a determined campaign, combined with existing levels of anger in many workplaces, could deliver a similar result, though it also seems unlikely that this time the mere threat of action will be sufficient to force a climbdown by a CEO and senior management team hell-bent on a radical restructuring of Royal Mail.
Along with its precursor unions, the CWU is a long-standing Labour Party affiliate and its members should receive unequivocal and unstinting support from all levels of the party in the event of strike action at Royal Mail.
Hackney North & Stoke Newington CLP Trade Union Liaison Officer