Profit-hungry Royal Mail plans to axe 900 jobs
Unite post managers fear for their futures as shareholders demand more
The Royal Mail – one of the institutions that made Britain great. Starting its service in 1516, the men and women that have worked as ‘posties’ and mail managers have become familiar heroes. They’ve had songs written about them, a long-running TV show brought them into the hearts of an entire generation of our children, and during the pandemic they were applauded as key workers that went the extra mile to bring us our mail.
You’d think that the Royal Mail would want to celebrate and value its’ staff. After all, didn’t they pull out all the stops for the nation – and earned huge profits for the shareholders? They most certainly did. An astonishing £400m was ‘divvied’ out to grasping shareholders last year.
According to a Guardian article from last November the Royal Mail ‘achieved a £311m pre-tax profit in the six months to 26 September, after barely scraping a profit last year… Revenues rose by 7 per cent year-on-year to £6.1bn.’
The news at that time saw shares shoot up by 7 per cent, making the Royal Mail the top riser on the FTSE 100 and pushing its market value up by £300m to a massive £4.7bn.
But the way Unite’s post managers – part of Unite’s Communications Managers’ Association (CMA) group – have been treated has been nothing short of disgraceful. And the latest moves to cut 900 more managers – announced on January 25, is causing severe distress to Unite members.
Less than 12 months ago, the business’ new CEO cut 1,600 managers. The latest plans will cut swathes of hardship through managers working as delivery office managers and line managers, sector collection managers and sector hub staff managers, plus managers who look after boxes and counters collections.
“Royal Mail thinks if they cut the managers, the staff will just manage themselves,” commented Unite CMA’s executive council representative, Howard Percival. “They want to move to a 7-day a week service. They haven’t got enough employees now to deliver that level of service. How on earth do they think that cutting 900 jobs is going to help them to achieve that?”
Unite members are happy to help the business grow, “but we want it to grow safely,” explains Howard. “But they’re just not interested. We can’t fill staff gaps except by using agency workers. They don’t pay us overtime or observe the 48-hour working time directive. During the Covid pandemic with people off sick we pulled out all the stops to cover a 6-day service, with no overtime and high levels of stress. Now they’re expecting us to do that as a matter of course – and we’re just exhausted – we just physically and mentally can’t do it.
“The CEO just wants to make more and more profits and the shareholders just want more and more money – and we’re left paying the price.”
Managers have seen their annual bonuses cut – replaced by a £400 payment. “Our pay rise last year was 2.9 per cent and now they want to cut 900 more of us,” says Howard.
“Our members are already suffering. Our working hours are 41 hours per week, and we’re already working well in excess of that, working six days a week – for no overtime or recognition.”
Howard also tells us of a sinister move by senior management where it would seem that some managers are being bullied into working more hours – or else face, in effect, dismissal.
The process of interviewing ‘poorly performing’ managers began shortly after Christmas. A manager would be called in by a senior manager for a ‘protective conversation.’ “We have proper performance processes in place,” explains Howard, “but these processes do not appear to have been adhered to.
“We understand that some managers were called in and told their performance was poor and asked did they want to leave? They should be on a six months’ notice but it would seem that some were told to leave the next day. We think there was about 100 of these interviews. Unite intervened and they seem to have stopped. They don’t notify us.”
Mental health is suffering
Needless to say the mental health of managers is suffering under this constant strain. “Our own Unite mental health ambassadors are having to step in as the service provided by management is seemingly unable to offer any real support to colleagues that are really worried for their futures. The business seems like it just couldn’t care less.
“Many of our managers are younger people with young children, mortgages and other debts. They are fearing for their jobs, fearing for their futures. They are really worried – it’s totally unacceptable.”
Enough was enough for our beleaguered postal workers and on hearing of the ‘restructuring plan’ on Tuesday, Unite CMA organised the biggest ever meeting its’ ever held – over 930 anxious members joined the zoom meeting held last night (January 26).
“We’ve never had a meeting like it in our history. There was an absolute outburst of emails from the members who wanted to join in the Q&A session. Members are angry.
“And they’re worried. Some fear they could lose their job in a week’s time. The CEO says he wants trust – he lost that in the 30 minutes it took to tell us about the new cuts. We are going to run weekly sessions and if our members call for industrial action – at whatever level – we shall back that all the way,” he added.
The sense of outrage felt by Howard and the CMA members was echoed by Unite’s general secretary Sharon Graham. On hearing the plans to slash a further 900 jobs she said, “Coming on top of a record turn-around in the company’s fortunes, which resulted in the board handing over a £400m giveaway to certain shareholders, this is cold comfort for those long months when postal employees were being badly hit by coronavirus at its worst.
“Unite will be giving maximum support to our members in fighting these unjust job cuts and this includes the possibility of an industrial action ballot. Now is the time for the top executives to reconsider their proposals,” she urged.
“We are appalled with the announcement,” commented chair of the Unite CMA senior reps’ committee, Gary Sassoon-Hales. “The Royal Mail is running out of excuses when it comes to the rationale for management reviews.
“Unite CMA has not agreed with these proposals and will now enter into consultation. We will be feeding back the outcome of the consultation to our members who will then decide on what action to take next,” he added.
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By Amanda Campbell